Ollie & Spuds – Chapter 5

© 2014 Carolyn Cott

Chapter 5 – The Morning Sun Sparking Off Her Fur

Spuds sits in the one beam of sunlight slanting in between the tall buildings. Suddenly she feels her paw needs washing, so she does that. There’s a spot on her back that makes her skin twitch, so she attends to that. Then she curls into a tight circle, wraps her tail neatly around her front paws, closes her eyes and doses.

Ollie trots down the sidewalk, turns into the alley, and stops. The ginger-colored cat is there, the morning sun sparking off her fur. She appears to be sleeping, but her ears move toward his direction. Ollie thinks of the other cats he’s seen. The skinny cats with hissing voices that live in another alley. The next door cat at the house, who had perched on the half-wall between the backyards and glared at him, the tip of his stripy tail twitching. Then he remembers-hears his children’s high voices, their clear-bell laughter. He feels their chubby arms around his neck. He closes his eyes and sighs loudly.

Spuds opens her eyes into thin lines and watches the dog, sensing him. There is sorrow and gentleness. She watches him for a moment longer, then makes up her mind. She rises, stretches slowly, and walks to him.

Ollie looks around wildly, seeking an escape route, but by then the cat is in front of him. With her tail held high, she raises her face and blinks at him once, twice, three times, slowly. With his breath held and his ears up in alert, he looks at her, then he drops his ears and almost smiles. Spuds takes another step toward him, curls her back into an arch and rubs against his nose. She purrs and does it again. Ollie takes a tentative slurp of her ear. Spuds shakes off the dog spit, then sits down and gazes at Ollie. Well, she conveys, what shall we do?

Ollie looks toward the back end of the alley where he sleeps and thinks, sleep, but then reconsiders. He hadn’t found anything but a torn-off piece of crusty pretzel last night and was hungry. He looks at Spuds, licks his chops in answer, and they trot out of the alley. Ollie leads them down the street some distance and into an alley. There Ollie sits down beneath a fragrant-smelling dumpster and looks pointedly between the dumpster and Spuds.

Spuds calculates the distance, crouches, and in one fluid motion jumps to the rim of the dumpster and into it. She emerges with the remnants of a chicken thigh between her teeth and deposits it at Ollie’s feet. He chomps into it, and when he’s mostly done he remembers the cat, backs up a pace, and stands guard while Spuds finishes the feast.

She washes her face while Ollie paces. We have to get out of here now. Ollie looks at Spuds. People will be coming soon. Not nice people.

They slip out in the street and run toward the home-alley, pausing only to lap up some dirty water pooled beneath a downspout. Then they dart into the alley just as more and more cars and trucks are rumbling by. Ollie walks to his pile of rags and cardboard, uses his nose to burrow in, circles three times and lies down. With his head resting on his paw he looks at Spuds: come here. Spuds walks toward him, gracefully jumps up beside him, and nestles into the crook of Ollie’s hind leg. As she drifts toward sleep she realizes this is the first time she’s felt something like comfort in a long time. She lifts her head, gives Ollie a lick, then settles into safe sleep.

to be continued….

Chapter 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/15/ollie-spuds-chapter-1/
Chapter 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/21/ollie-spuds-chapter-2/
Chapter 3:  https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/05/04/ollie-spuds-chapter-3/
Chapter 4: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/05/09/ollie-spuds-chapter-4/

Ollie & Spuds – Chapter 4

© 2014 Carolyn Cott

One evening during Spuds and her kittens’ wanderings, they came to a building from which came a chorus of meows and barking. Spuds listened closely. There was a question in each of the sounds, some complaining, but not fear. In a few of the voices she heard glee.

For the next three days she ventured out on her own during the daytime, hiding in the shrubbery and watching that place of meows and barks. People came and went, some bringing animals in—those people were teary with contorted faces. Some brought animals out—those people were happy and chattering to the bewildered-looking cat or dog. Spuds caught sight of one cat in a box with small metal crisscrossed bars. The cat’s feet were splayed out in front of him, bracing against movement, but his gaze was more curious than anything.

A van came and went often, spilling out a large man stuffed into a uniform with many pockets and shiny buttons. His face was always serious. The dogs he brought in on leashes were skinny and mangy and haunted looking. The cats were yowling. Just wait, communicated Spuds silently from her hiding place, just wait: you’ll be fine.

After the third day Spuds gathered her brood over a feast of two freshly caught mice. When the kittens had finished their meal and Spuds had crunched through the remains of bones and tails and toes, after all of them had washed their faces with their paws and were content, she told them her plan. They listened, then slept.

When the moon was still high between the buildings, Spuds nudged the kittens awake. Yawning and stretching, they meandered after her. She settled them down together beneath a bush by the front door of the place of meow and barks, and waited. As the sun rose pink, Spuds licked the face of each of her babies and looked into their eyes, trying to convey a lifetime of love. When each kitten held her gaze and blinked slowly, Spuds moved to the next.

People started coming to the building, sharp, purposeful footfalls clicking on the pavement. Spuds saw the man in the uniform come up the walk. She nudged the littlest kitten out from under the shrub and told her to meow. The kitten did, and the man looked down. Spuds nudged the other kittens, and they followed their sister.

The man looked down and sighed. He scooped up all four of the kittens in his meaty arms and then saw Spuds. He called over his shoulder to a woman coming up the walk. She reached beneath the bush to grab Spuds, but Spuds eluded her grasp. The woman ran after her, but Spuds was faster. Before turning the corner, Spuds looked back toward her babies, watching as the last stubby orange tail disappeared through the door. She had a moment of panic, then darted under a fence and was gone.

Spuds has a hard time getting comfortable at night without the kittens to curl around. She misses her babies terribly. She holds onto a hopeful image: someone taking care of them, giving them warmth and food and water and comfort. With that picture in her mind, she can let go and sleep. But her first thought upon waking is of them: the way the sun shone on their orange fur, their ticked whiskers alternating white and tan to the tips, their small tails, fuzzy and broad at the base and tapering to a point.

She spends nights wandering around, half-heartedly hunting for food, nibbling at some tidbits in the dumpster. Maybe she should have gone in with her kittens, she thinks. She turns that split-second decision over and over in her mind, not clear why she had turned and fled. But it’s too late now.

to be continued….

Chapter 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/15/ollie-spuds-chapter-1/
Chapter 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/21/ollie-spuds-chapter-2/
Chapter 3:  https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/05/04/ollie-spuds-chapter-3/

Ollie & Spuds – Chapter 3

Chapter 3 – With that Picture in Mind, She Can Sleep
© 2014 Carolyn Cott

Chapter 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/15/ollie-spuds-chapter-1/
Chapter 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/21/ollie-spuds-chapter-2/

red cat from free digitalSpuds had no plan. By night she hunted. By day she slept. She moved from place to place, restless.

Spuds wandered eventually into the city. Spuds learned to spot potential danger and change direction instantly. She came across a band of other cats in the park tried to live with them, but they were as prone to fighting as they were to grooming each other. She left and eventually made her home in a partially crushed box in an abandoned trash pile. It was often bitter cold, but there were plenty of mice to hunt. Water was the issue. She had to learn to drink when it rained and went thirsty when it did not. When the water froze in winter, she went without for longer periods of time. It was difficult not to crave water; sleep was the only escape from that gnawing need, but sleep was never deep and sound—Spuds learned to keep part of her mind alert for danger even in sleep.

By the late winter, Spuds’ hunger and belly had grown. One cold morning she birthed four tiny kittens, three orange, and the tiniest a pale ginger.

Spuds had never loved as much as she loved her babies. The need for food increased, so she’d leave her kittens huddled together, first communicating to them soundlessly not to move, not to mew. She held the gaze of each of them, then trotted off to hunt for her family.

She came to an area where the air was fragrant with food, women’s high-heeled shoes clicked on the sidewalk, and men’s overcoat tails flew behind them in wind. There were shiny lights and big cars along the street, and fragrant alleys and dumpsters behind the buildings.

The next night she moved her kittens, one at a time, in her mouth, waddling as fast as she could through the streets, to their new home.   She nudged the kittens beneath a stack of wooden pallets. There was no cardboard to tuck into and the concrete was cold, but food was available. There were always trade-offs.

Spuds would jump easily up and into the dumpster, emerging with delicious tidbits she’d present to her kittens. Once the kittens had eaten, she would do so, and then they curled together, the whole lot of them purring. This was her happiest time.

As the kittens grew, Spuds couldn’t keep them sequestered, so they wandered around together with her searching for food. Twice she had to fight dogs to keep them safe. Once the smallest ginger-colored kitten barely escaped the wheels of a passing truck.

Spuds sensed the time was drawing near when the kittens would wander off and start their own lives. When they settled down to sleep together, she sent them mental pictures of the life she hoped they would lead: images of a warm fireplace, kind hands setting down bowls of food and water, a soft place to sleep, and safety, safety, safety.

to be continued…

Chapter 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/15/ollie-spuds-chapter-1/
Chapter 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/21/ollie-spuds-chapter-2/

photo by Dan courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

Shelter – part 3

© Karla McLaren 2014

Milton’s behavior in round two is interesting.  He has moved very far away from the untouched treat I placed on the left side of his blanket, and he sits very still on the rightmost side of the front of his kennel, staring fixedly, straight ahead.  I sneak some sideways glances at him from my kneeling position.  He’s a very handsome boy with a Doberman’s black and brown coloring, but his body shape and size is closer to a Beagle’s.  He’s a fit, compact little guy, with a clean short coat and healthy skin and paws.  I know that he hasn’t been given a bath here at the shelter (no one has time), so he’s clearly very careful about his own hygiene.  Very self-contained.  Milton’s body language interests me, because even in the confines of his kennel, he has many choices.  If he really didn’t want to see me, he could simply go outside in his run, and effectively disappear.  He could also curl up against the wall and present his back to me.  He could push the treat outside his kennel, tear up his blankets, or rush the kennel door and bark menacingly.  But he does none of these truly antisocial things.  Instead, Milton has entered into a relationship with me – and in all honesty, I think he’s trying to teach me manners.

I continue to kneel, and I watch Milton out of the corner of my eye.  His eyes do not seek mine, but his stare has changed from the beady malevolence of our first meeting to a more relaxed yet determined stare.  If we were humans, and if we were looking at each other, this would be a staring contest.  But with Milton in charge, it’s a not-staring contest, and Milton is in it for the duration.  I can see Jake in the next kennel, sitting patiently and quietly, but getting antsy as he waits for me, and I wonder about my next move in Milton’s dance.  I wonder if I should take the offending treat away, but I think that would be a mistake.  It was a gift, which means it belongs to him now. And though he hasn’t eaten it, he is using it to communicate with me.  I don’t want to make the wrong move.

If I were a dog, Milton’s determined stare of avoidance would mean that I had broken a social rule.  My response, if I didn’t want to get into a fight, would be to cease my incorrect behavior and make myself small and subordinate.  I wondered if this would be a good thing.  At the shelter, we’re supposed to position ourselves as the lead dogs in this pack, but I grew up with animals who knew with absolute certainty that they were the real leaders.  My brother’s brilliant dog, Johann, pretty much trained himself and looked after my sisters and brothers as if he were our uncle.  My cat Sofia, who learned to open doors and turn on faucets, lived life on her own terms.  Or my little bonsai stray, Kiku, who had every disease known to felinity and never grew much larger than a kitten, yet who taught herself to use her litter box, to put herself to bed every night, and to understand all the intricate rules of human-cat wrestling.

I felt that Johann, Sofia, and Kiku would be offended by the shelter’s training methods, even though these methods were humane and respectful for most animals. These three were self-contained animals, very self-aware, and extremely quick to decipher all the rules of the house and human relationships.  I wondered if Milton was this kind of animal, and if he had had the extremely bad luck to have an owner who treated him like a knucklehead, which to be fair, some dogs truly are.  I wondered if Milton was not so much hateful and dangerous as he was affronted by treatment that did not respect his innate intelligence and his dignity.

I made a decision. I looked up and down the kennel rows to make sure no staff person was around, and I lay down on the cold cement walkway in front of Milton and curled my head in supplication.  I waited for a few seconds, and then reached my hand gently toward Milton’s kennel door – not touching it, but asking if I could.  I peered up at Milton, and he looked down his nose at me for a long second, then looked away, off to the left.  I looked in that direction, too.  I touched my side of the metal frame of his kennel door – I didn’t put my hand inside.  Milton didn’t look back at me, but he slowly reached out with his left paw and touched the frame on his side.  We weren’t looking at each other, and we weren’t touching, but we were both looking in the same direction and touching the same door frame, and we had reached some kind of compromise in Milton’s world.

I didn’t want to break the mood, but I was cruising for a bruising from the staff if I got caught here – especially if I got caught letting a dog take what the staff saw as a dominant role.  So I whispered, “Thank you Milton – you’re a good dog,” and I slowly placed a new treat on the bottom frame of Milton’s kennel door, between his paw and mine. I got to my knees slowly and crawled to Jake’s kennel.  The poor sweetie had been waiting very patiently, so I patted him through the kennel bars, scratched his long ears, and gave him two treats, and then went further into the chained-off area.  On my way back out, I lowered my head when I got to Milton’s kennel.  I didn’t look at him, but I whispered, “I love you Milton. You’re a very good dog.”

The third round through is the final training moment before I start walking specific dogs, doing mountains of kennel laundry, or working in the cat annex.  In the first two rounds, I had established myself as someone to look forward to, and I had given all of the dogs some idea of correct behaviors (and two almost free treats).  This time, the treats have a real cost – the dogs have to be seated, still, and quiet, and almost isn’t rewarded on the third pass.  Many dogs get very excited and begin to bark as I near them, but I make eye contact, raise my finger to my lips, shake my head, and say, “NO, quiet.”

to be continued next week…

for part 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/07/shelter/
for part 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/14/shelter-part-2/

Karla McLaren is a pioneering educator and award-winning author whose empathic approach to emotions revalues even the most “negative” emotions, and opens startling new pathways into the depths of the soul. She is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, the trailblazing book The Language of Emotion: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, and the interactive online course Emotional Flow. Karla has taught at such venues as the University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Kripalu, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She is currently developing new forms of empathy and social interaction curricula for neurologically diverse people.

The Art of Empathy

What if there were a single skill that could radically improve your relationships and your life? Empathy, teaches empathic pioneer Karla McLaren, is that skill. In The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, McLaren presents her groundbreaking model of The Six Essential Aspects of Empathy to help you understand and nurture healthy empathy in every part of your life.  Informed by four decades of empathic experience, plus current insights from neuroscience, social science, the arts, and healing traditions, The Art of Empathy teaches you how to become a healthy and happy empathic presence in a world that needs you

Shelter – part 2

UntoldAnimalStories.org is pleased to present part two of a four-part tale by pioneering educator and author Karla McLaren.
© Karla McLaren 2014

continued from March 7 post…
We work to keep the dogs calm and quiet in their kennels, but it’s hard because so many new dogs come in regularly, and the cement-and metal kennels amplify their noise powerfully. Today, all the kennels are full – some with two or more dogs who came in together, so we’ve got more than eighty dogs here.  If even ten percent start barking, the noise can be deafening and very stressful for everyone (there’s a huge jar of free earplugs in the lobby; it’s that noisy). My greet-and-treat visits are a way to calm the dogs, and they’re a central part of kennel training and socialization, with a rhythm that’s so predictable that the kennel vets know it by heart.  On my first pass through the kennel, everyone gets a hello and a meaty treat no matter what they’re doing or not doing.  I want each dog to see people as fun, and to look forward to my next visit.  Some of the more savvy dogs predict the desired behavior – they sit calmly and meet my eyes – and I praise them clearly so that the other dogs can hear.

On the second round, the dogs have to perform in some way for their treat.  Any of these three behaviors – sitting, being calm, or being quiet – merits a treat.  And the dogs really can’t fail – even a terrier who leaps all over her kennel like a tiny tornado can at least calm down a little bit.  I help the hyper dogs by making a great show of hunkering down next to their kennel and using hand gestures while I ask “Can you get down?”  Most of the dogs will follow my lead, and the trick is to reward them as soon as they manage a desired behavior.  For some dogs, I have to wait until they stumble onto something – anything – desirable, but if I have patience, I can catch even the most chaotic dog in some form of a correct behavior.

The key is to ignore – completely – any bad behaviors, and reward good behaviors as soon as you see them.  Rewards don’t have to be food as they are at the shelter; petting, hugs, and praise are just as effective.  We use delicious desiccated liver treats at the shelter as a way to ease the general depression that plagues shelter dogs.  Food is not the best kind of love, but it gives the dogs something to look forward to and some bright spots in their stressful days.

On today’s second round, nearly everyone is figuring out which behaviors are required before the treat is given.  Some hyper dogs can’t stop barking, and some dogs clearly don’t know the “sit” command, but I catch everyone doing something right, and praise them all with a hearty “good dog.”  Today, something unusual pulls my eye to a small dog in one of the kennels near the entrance, which is where the cutest, smallest, and most adoptable dogs generally are.  This one is a sleek, sable-brown little girl named Peaches who squirms around joyfully in her kennel like a tiny harbor seal. She pushes herself nearer to me as I pass, so I kneel down and peer in as I pet her beautiful brown forehead, which she pushes up to the chain links of her kennel door.  She rolls over to show me her belly, and I see a lumpy umbilical hernia pushing up through her skin, and the strangest leg conformation in her hind quarters, but she won’t stop squirming long enough for me to figure out what’s going on.  Her kennel card doesn’t mention anything. I stoop down and kiss her on her nose, which is small enough for her to poke almost completely through a chain link, and I promise to come back.

I head down a T-leg of the kennel rows toward the home of the silly Nana.  She’s a gigantic Saint Bernard with a kidney condition that requires daily medication, and she’s been here a while.  Her owner couldn’t afford to take care of her, so she’s here waiting for someone with a big house, a big yard, and a big wallet for her meds.  Though some dogs become despondent after a long time in the kennel, Nana, who has been here for three months, is endlessly cheerful.  Nana thinks the greet-and-treat game is very funny, and she’s put her own spin on it.  Because she’s so huge, she can rise up and see over the cement walls of her kennel (they’re 6 feet tall).  When Nana sees me approaching, she likes to rile up the other dogs and get them barking.  When I arrive at her kennel, though, she makes a great show of sitting very prettily and being ever so quiet while the other dogs display their very bad manners.  I thank her loudly for being quiet, and I make “shush” gestures at the other dogs.  I usually treat Nana twice in each round – once on the way into her kennel row, and once on the way out.  She’s so big that my little cracker-sized treats are probably just a drop in a bucket!  On round three, I’m going to see if I can get her to stop riling everyone up, even though I do appreciate her excellent sense of humor.

As I near Milton and Jake and the chain again, I wonder how Milton will view me this time – what his approach will be.  This second treat is supposed to act as a kind of exchange between me and the dogs; it’s a prelude to entering into a working relationship.  Some of the dogs already have this figured out – they’re in graduate school.  Some, like the wildly leaping terriers, haven’t even entered preschool, and they’re going to need a lot of work.  But with Milton, I wonder if there’s even a hope of getting him anywhere near the idea of a relationship.

When I reach Milton’s kennel, I approach him in the proper way: I kneel down to his level and present the side of my body to him – I don’t face him.  Many dogs see face-to-face approaches and largeness as a threat (if one dog faces another and tries to make himself appear larger, that’s often an invitation to a fight in dog language).  I also don’t bare my teeth, extend my hand, or poke my fingers into Milton’s kennel.  Those are also threats – they’re aggressive moves, and Milton requires politeness, space, and respect.

to be continued next week…

for part 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/07/shelter/
for part 3: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/21/shelter-part-3/

Karla McLaren is a pioneering educator and award-winning author whose empathic approach to emotions revalues even the most “negative” emotions, and opens startling new pathways into the depths of the soul. She is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, the trailblazing book The Language of Emotion: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, and the interactive online course Emotional Flow. Karla has taught at such venues as the University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Kripalu, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She is currently developing new forms of empathy and social interaction curricula for neurologically diverse people.

The Art of Empathy

What if there were a single skill that could radically improve your relationships and your life? Empathy, teaches empathic pioneer Karla McLaren, is that skill. In The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, McLaren presents her groundbreaking model of The Six Essential Aspects of Empathy to help you understand and nurture healthy empathy in every part of your life.  Informed by four decades of empathic experience, plus current insights from neuroscience, social science, the arts, and healing traditions, The Art of Empathy teaches you how to become a healthy and happy empathic presence in a world that needs you.

Ollie & Spuds – Chapter 2

(continued from previous post)   The cat’s name is Spuds.  The old man she’d lived with thought she looked like the color of yellow Finn potatoes.  He’d pulled her as a kitten out from under a bramble—mewing and shaking—on a busy roadside.  He gently stroked her fur with large, rough hands, looked into her gold-green eyes, and took her home.

Spuds had a life of luxury with him: curled up on the rug by the wood stove in winter, lounging on a sunny perch on the screened-in porch in the summer watching red cardinals and blue birds.  Spuds liked the old man, a lot; they understood each other.  But one morning when she went up to his room to remind him it was feeding time, something was different.  She jumped up on the bed and stood on his chest and peered at him.  She could sense him, but he wasn’t in there his body.  She called out to him.  Then she saw him in her mind’s eye, and his eyes were dazzling.  Then he receded and was gone.

Four days passed before anyone came to the house.  By then Spuds had clawed her way through the bag of cat food and found that fresh toilet water wasn’t completely undrinkable.

People came then, many of them, people who had never come before.  They pawed the old man’s possessions, argued with each other, and carried things out of the house.  Spuds watched.  A woman noticed the cat and picked her up, bangle bracelets clanging together, and put Spuds outside.  Spuds sniffed at the air, then turned to go back inside.  The woman blocked Spuds’ way with a well-shod foot.  “You’re free now kitty, go away.”

Spuds looked for a long while at the closed door.  Then she walked down the driveway and before turning onto the road, looked back at the house.  The windows glinted empty and cold in the sun.
Ollie & Spuds will be continued

Chapter 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/15/ollie-spuds-chapter-1/

Chapter 3:  https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/05/04/ollie-spuds-chapter-3/