An Urban Intervention to Make the Invisible Visible

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Shelter – part 4

© Karla McLaren 2014

As the third round of the greet-and-treat begins, I change my normal pathway through the kennels, and crouch down and whisper to the dogs I treat on my way down the T-leg toward Nana’s – so that she can’t see me coming. As I reach her kennel, still crouched down, I catch her, standing up and peering over her wall, waiting for me. I speak quietly as I stand up, “Hello, you criminal!” and Nana makes a noise that sounds just like Scooby Doo getting caught with a sandwich, “oirp?” Hah! She drops down from her perch, sits properly and quietly, and looks at me with sparkling eyes. ”Good girl Nana, down,” I say. I throw my voice a bit to the dogs near her who are unusually quiet, for once, “Down and quiet, good dog!” Nearly everyone in Nana’s area gets a third-round treat today (for the first time), and as I pass her on my way back, I give her another treat, the outlaw.

The third round goes well, with more than half of the dogs figuring out all three behaviors: seated, still, and quiet. It’s still very noisy; we have a lot of new dogs who are afraid and riled up – but even in the midst of the noise, many dogs are getting the picture and learning how to calm themselves in spite of the clamor. As I continue through the shelter, I take a moment at Peaches’ kennel: the little sweetie has mastered two out of three behaviors. She’s quiet and calm, but she’s still down on the floor, and I don’t actually think she can sit, so I open her kennel door. I carry a leash with me in case dogs need to come out of their kennels for some reason during the greet-and-treats, but I don’t think Peaches can walk, so I close myself in her kennel with her to see what’s going on.

Peaches lifts her head happily and then flips over on her tummy and wriggles nearer to me, and I sit down to be with her. Peaches is a love: soft, cuddly, and wanting to be picked up. As I lift her, she struggles a bit to get herself into my arms, and she curls up like a baby, nuzzling and kissing me. I hug her and kiss her, and talk sweet nonsense to her as I run my free hand over her legs and feet: her front legs seem normal, but both of her back legs are floppy, and they have almost no muscle tone. They’re also pointing backward, which explains her seal movements and her inability to sit. I also gently palpate her umbilical hernia, and she doesn’t yelp or pull away, so it doesn’t seem to be hurting her. I wonder why she’s up front instead of back with Jake and Milton, but she’s so adorable that I think the staff is hoping she’ll be adopted before they start on her surgeries. If I could have a dog, I would totally take Peaches; I think they’ve made a good call.

After a few minutes of kissing and snuggling, I leave Peaches with extra treats and let myself out of her kennel. All of the dogs nearby have been quiet and patient as they watched me in Peaches’ kennel (including, unbelievably, the terriers), so they all get another treat. I head back to the chained-off area, but I see Brandon (one of the staff behaviorists) there, uh oh. He’s taking one of the other T dogs out into the private training area to check her temperament. I hope he doesn’t see the treats I gave Milton, oy.

I loiter around the chain and wait for Brandon to take his T dog outside. When he does, I duck under the chain and peer into Milton’s kennel, and I don’t see any treats – not the one on the blanket, and not the one on the bottom of the kennel door where I left it, whew. However, I also don’t see Milton, and I feel a bit of panic – did they take him? I call to him and kneel down to peer through the small opening that leads to his run, but I don’t see him. I look for Jake, but he’s not in his kennel either. I run (okay, I walk quickly but calmly, so the dogs won’t start barking again) back through the kennels, into the back rooms, past the laundry room overflowing with blankets, towels, and dog beds, and into the small room where the animals are euthanized. The room is empty, and Milton isn’t anywhere. I can’t shake my dread.

I walk back out into the kennels and head to the private training area to ask Brandon what happened, but when I get outside, I see him with Milton, who’s off leash and playing (!) in the sunshine with the female T dog. I feel a huge sense of relief, but I play it cool, “Oh hey, you’ve got Milton out again.” Brandon answers, but keeps his focus on the dogs, “Yeah, he’s such a smart dog that it didn’t feel right, redlining him. It was bugging me all night, and today he seemed to get that he had another chance.” I watch Milton running around, twisting, playing, and chasing the other dog, and they begin running around in circles, racing, faking each other out, and escaping from each other. I become a base in their game of tag, and Milton circles me twice before running off, happily engrossed in the game. I stand where I am, breathing deeply. Vast mountains of laundry call to me, but I turn my smiling face to the sun for a moment, and let the tears fall.

for part 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/07/shelter/
for part 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/14/shelter-part-2/
for part 3: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/21/shelter-part-3/

for all Untold Animal Stories: www.untoldanimalstories.org

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/

25 Ways to Help Animals & the Humane Society International

From helping animals affected by disasters, providing care for starving street dogs in India and elsewhere, making strides for animals in laboratories, factory farms, puppy mills, and so much more, Humane Society International (HSI) is working to protect animals around the world Please visit their site and consider a small holiday donation in honor of someone you love.   Thank you.  http://bit.ly/1g9QZhL

child with dog ID-10023413

25 Actions to Help Animals and HSI

There are many ways to show that you care.  Get involved, make a difference.  Here are 25 ideas for ways you can help animals locally and around the world.

With so many widespread problems facing animals, it takes all of our collective efforts to confront cruelty and change things for the better.

Get involved in your community

  • Write letters to the editor on animal protection issues and encourage radio and television talk shows to cover these topics (hsi.org is a great resource for information).
  • Approach your place of worship about engaging in animal protection issues. See what the HSUS Faith Outreach team has been doing for ideas.
  • Help feral cats in your neighborhood with the HSUS’s Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) resources.
  • Ask your local restaurants and grocery stores to switch to cage-free eggs, and to protect seals by boycotting Canadian seafood.
  • Take a stand against puppy mills and encourage local stores that sell live animals to stop. Ask pet stores to work with animal welfare organizations to promote animals available for adoption.
  • Promote Meatless Mondays in your school, workplace cafeteria, or in your favorite restaurant. It’s a campaign that’s good for animals, the environment, and our health.

Help animals in your everyday life

  • Be a responsible pet owner. Have your pet spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted births. Put a collar and visible identification on your dogs and cats and encourage others to do the same. And keep your cats safe indoors.
  • Avoid supporting cruelty as “entertainment.” Do not attend bullfights, bull fiestas, or marine mammal shows.
  • Add an HSI video to your website, blog, or social networking page.
  • Educate yourself by signing up for email action alerts and news from HSI. Share emails with friends.
  • Adopt a friend for life from a local animal shelter or foster an animal waiting for a permanent home. Search World Animal Net’s directory and choose “Pet Adoption” or “Foster Homes” under “Select Focus or Activity.” If you live in the U.S., search The Shelter Pet Project.
  • “Like” HSI on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  • Eat with conscience. Practice the 3 Rs of eating. Reduce your consumption of meat and other animal-based foods, refine your diet by avoiding animal products derived from factory farming, and replace meat and other animal-based foods with vegetarian options.
  • Pledge to be cruelty-free and only purchase cosmetics that are certified [PDF] to be non-animal-tested.
  • Support compassion in fashion by consulting the Fur-Free Retailer program’s list of fur-free retailers, designers, and brands and The HSUS’s guide [PDF] to telling real fur from fake.
  • Prepare a disaster kit for you and your animals.
  • Make compassionate purchasing decisions while traveling and at home with the help of our Don’t Buy Wild guide.
  • Ask restaurants that serve shark fin soup to stop by providing restaurant managers with our Consumer Cards.
  • Make a personal annual gift to HSI or sign up for an automatic monthly pledge using your credit card.
  • Share this list with family members and friends so they can learn how their actions can help animals, too.

Participate in trainings and events

Volunteer for animals

  • Offer your time and skills to your local animal welfare/protection organization. A useful resource is the World Animal Net directory. Do make sure you are comfortable with the positions and actions of any group you volunteer for. You can also volunteer ”virtually” for groups anywhere in the world!!
  • Some ways you may be able to help animal protection organizations: fundraise, manage their website or social media presence, design and produce flyers and/or advertisements, set up a community education booth [PDF], or take photographs of animals available for adoption.

Reach out to youth and schools

  • Teach children and teens to respect animals with humane education activities and lesson plans. Lead Mission: Humane projects for students and animal clubs who want to help animals.
  • Provide classrooms and youth clubs with our How to Avoid Dog Bites booklet [PDF]
  • Give talks at local schools about factory farming and how students can help animals at every meal by avoiding factory farmed products, and by choosing cage-free eggs and plant-based foods. Encourage them to ask their cafeterias to go cage-free and to adopt Meatless Monday.

Information from http://www.hsi.org and letter from Rebecca Aldworth, Executive Director of HSI Canada on My Life’s Work – Helping Animals

Photograph of Child with Dog courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and photographer Ashley Cox

Part IV … in the middle of winter

Gracie in windowFor part I:   https://untoldanimalstories.org/2013/09/13/i-was-born-in-the-middle-of-winter/
Part II:
https://untoldanimalstories.org/2013/09/20/part-ii-i-was-born-on-an-amish-farm-in-the-middle-of-winter/
Part III: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2013/09/27/part-iii-i-was-born-on-an-amish-farm-in-the-middle-of-winter/

I was not born on an Amish farm in the middle of winter, but I live with the one who was.  I was born in the middle of summer in Peachbottom, PA, near a chain link fence.  By the time I was six months old I’d had a litter of kittens.  At eight months, someone tossed me from a car window by my forearm.  I walked with a limp like Quasimodo for a long time.  I landed in a soft place eventually, but that’s another story for another time.

This part of my story is about Mr. Bean, who blasted into my life after we lost our dog, Beez.  Beez and I were best of friends, and now he’s gone.  Beezel & Gracie 2009My people adopted this wiry, wild-eyed kitten who lacks manners.  Though our pasts have similarities—each of us was neglected and suffered from hunger—I’m more philosophic than Bean is.  I see things as they are, and I soften into them.  Despite Mr. Bean’s behavior toward me, I conduct myself exactly as I chose to be.  I never bite.  I am kind, always.  I live peacefully.  It’s my hope that by walking my path, I will teach this young one.  In the meantime, I’m chased, pounced upon, and chewed on.  If I could sigh, I would.  But things are exactly as they are, and I move through my world in relative serenity, sometimes better than others.

DSC_0106

Feedback . ideas . rescue stories   

Part III – I Was Born on an Amish Farm in the Middle of Winter

DSC_0225For part I:   https://untoldanimalstories.org/2013/09/13/i-was-born-in-the-middle-of-winter/
Part II: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2013/09/20/part-ii-i-was-born-on-an-amish-farm-in-the-middle-of-winter/

I do not understand why Gracie doesn’t want to play.  She runs from me, and when I tackle and bite her, she doesn’t reciprocate.  She just hisses and yells.  I suspect she needs training on how to play, so I do it again and again.  I keep waiting for her to clobber me, but she never does.  Mostly she skulks around trying to avoid me, looking left and right before exiting a room.  My surprise attack is one of my favorites, but she doesn’tDSC_0219 seem to like it.  Her lack of playfulness makes no sense to me.  I overheard my people say that I have no skill in alternate perspective taking.

DSC_0348Eventually, I get bored with Gracie—there’s only so much enjoyment one can derive from being hissed at.  I turn my attention to my people, swatting them as they go by my perch and occasionally chewing on them if I’m more rambunctious than usual.  I mean it in the nicest possible way, of course, and I keep my claws sheathed, but they don’t seem to like this.  What’s wrong with them?  Over time they’ve started referring to me as Bothersome Bean instead of Mr. Bean.

There is one game my people and I have enjoyed: fetch.  It originally went like this: they threw a toy for me, I chased it, I dropped it, they walked over, sighed, picked it up, and threw it for me again.  This game had minimal appeal to me because it was always on their terms (strict) and their timetables (limited) and, sadly, they became bored with it quickly.  I changed up the game, and they seem to have caught on: I bring them a toy—pop-off milk carton rings are best (and they smell of fragrant milk and remind me of my early youth)—they throw it, I chase it and bring it back to them, and they throw it again.  They’re able to do this even when they’re busy doing other things—and they are always busy doing, doing, doing—so this suits me perfectly.DSC_0096 - Version 3

I can happily play fetch for 20 minutes at a stretch, panting all the while.  I’ve heard my people complain that this does not seem to tire me out, and they also complain about “my behavior” in general.  They think there might be something wrong with me—as if biting Gracie were an issue.  They know nothing.  Still, they’ve tried many, many things with me: admonishing me, ignoring me, distracting me, and implementing ideas various people have suggested.  Nothing works because there is nothing wrong with me; it’s they who are the issue.  They just don’t understand.  Even the Jackson Galaxy (My Cat from Hell, on Animal Planet) website jingle tries to tell them.  It goes like this:  “You’re a bad cat.  I’m not a bad cat.  You’re a bad cat.  I’m not a bad cat.  You’re a bad cat.  I’m not a bad cat. . . I’m just misunderstood.”

I know this: although I am Bothersome Bean to them and to sweet Gracie, I know I am essentially good, and I trust that I have found my forever home with them.  They said so.

to be continued…
Part IV: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2013/10/04/part-iv-in-the-middle-of-winter/

Do you have ideas on how to gently stop kittens and cats from biting?  Please share them with us—via our contact page or untoldanimalstories@gmail.com  Thank you!

Frank Sinatra

Why they named me Frank Sinatra, I am not sure.  The neighbors laugh every time they say the name.  From what I understand, Frank was a singer.  Perhaps they named me because of my voice.  I wouldn’t say it’s mellifluous, like the birds that live at the borders of our pasture, but to my ears the intake breath sound of Hee and outflow breath sound of Haw have a nice, solid sound, like large farm machinery scraping across the floorboards of the barn.  I like that.  It makes me less lonely for my kin.

I do have a friend.  He’s a horse who shares the pasture and barn with me.  His name is Fred.  No last name.  Wherever he goes, I follow.  Mostly he doesn’t mind, but sometimes he swings around toward me with flattened ears, so I back up a few paces.  A little later, when he’s not paying attention, I sidle up and stand near him.  I’m quite a bit shorter than Fred, but I feel that my being near him somehow adds to my stature.

We came here from different places—here being this roomy pasture with a barn, and a man and woman who live in the stone house.  Fred traded hands many times.  He made friends at the first few places, but with each subsequent trade he kept more and more to himself.  He told me, What’s the use in making friends when humans can decide at any time to send you somewhere else?  Horses have no choice.  We’re compliant, and we withstand all sorts of things.  But that doesn’t mean that our hearts are resilient.

Fred came here five years ago.  I don’t think he or I are going anywhere.  That’s the feeling I get from our people, and I’ve overheard them talking about letting us live out our days here.  Still, Fred keeps himself a little apart from me, just in case.  Once in a while, Fred touches my neck with his nose and I bow my head in gratitude.

The man and woman take him on trail rides now and then.  Sometimes I go along, led by a long rope.  I like the change of view and I’m happy not to have all that saddle and gear strapped to me.  We go down to the end of the pasture, out through the gate, across the cool stream, and up into the woods.

Unlike Fred, I wasn’t so much as bought and sold as shunted from one place to another.  Children at one barn rode me a few times before becoming bored with me, so I went to another place where men in straw hats and suspenders and women in long, dark dresses worked me hard.

I pulled some contraption across a field, back and forth, back and forth.  I wasn’t fast or strong enough to suit them, and more than once they lashed my back harder than necessary to get their point across.  I strained and tried and sweated, but it was never good enough for them.  They believe that animals were put on earth by god for their use.  Never once did they touch me with kindness.  I closed my mind to it, but I never got used to it.

Eventually they stopped working me and brought in a broader, stouter donkey that pulled whatever they strapped to him.  In the pasture, though, he always stood with his head hanging low, his eyes half-closed.

I was sold at auction to the man and woman I live with now.  They coaxed me into the trailer and then out of the trailer, down the ramp, and into a pasture of tall, sweet grasses.

I kept waiting for things to unravel—for the food to become meager, for a command to pull something far too heavy, but it never happened.  Gradually I came to trust them.

Sometimes at night the man and woman sit on their porch playing wooden stringed instruments.  The woman sings.  Her voice is like a wisp of wind spiraling up into the sky.  Sometimes I’m inspired to sing along with her.  When I do, Fred stands nearby and listens attentively to the sound of our voices in harmony and the kind, kind laughter of the man.

-UntoldAnimalStories.org – We tell animals’ stories from their perspectives.  Gentle in our approach rather than shocking, we invite connection, compassion and, from that, action.  We also provide tips on what you can do to help animals, and we seek new action ideas, as well as animal and rescue stories, from you….  Please contact us at untoldanimalstories@gmail.com or via our contact page