© 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/
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…
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.
It only takes a moment to feel. Just drop inside your body, and from there, perceive. This cuts through the clutter and diversion of mind chatter and justifications, and for just those few moments, you can perceive what is without much of a filter.
Here’s one example. The man waited in line at his favorite lunch stand on a busy city street in Philadelphia. He noticed the stray dog, again. He’d seen him on other days but hadn’t given the dog much thought beyond: oh well, survival of the fittest. The rumpled-looking dog sidled up to the lunch cart, sniffing the fragrant food and looking up at the people in line, hopeful. Like all the other passersby and people in line, the man ignored the dog. It’s easier not to pay heed.
On this particular day, however, the man looked into the eyes of this creature and recognized something. He broke off a corner of his sandwich and held it out for the dog, who took it gingerly from his hand. Then he pulled out his cell phone, called directory service, and dialed the number of the local humane society.
The man sat on a nearby bench, the dog following a few respectful steps behind. He held out another piece of his sandwich to the dog, who swallowed it without chewing then looked up at the man, expectantly. Over the next half-hour the man gave the dog the rest of his sandwich in small pieces while checking his phone for the time and peering up and down the street. Finally, a small white truck pulled up and parked, and a uniformed woman climbed out. She glanced at the man, nodded to him, then crouched down and extended a treat to the dog. As the dog took the food, the woman spoke softly to him and slipped a leash over his head. The dog sat down at her side and looked up at her as if to say, what’s next? The woman asked the man if he’d seen the dog there before, and thanked him for caring enough to make the phone call. She opened the back of the truck, and the dog jumped in, happily. Off they drove.
The man bought another sandwich, this one for himself, and as he walked away, chewing thoughtfully, he felt good.
To find the phone number of your local shelter, add in your zipcode: http://theshelterpetproject.org/shelters
Brown stray dog courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net – tiverylucky.
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 email@example.com or via our contact page
I was born under a porch where I nestled with my mother and siblings in the cool, shaded dirt. We stayed put when she left each night; she didn’t tell us to do so, but she made it clear somehow. We weren’t inclined to wander anyway—there were odd sounds at night beyond the latticework that separated us from the world. So we chewed on each other, and climbed on top of each other, and silently curled around each other, awaiting her return. She came back before first light. We nursed happily and slept.
One morning there was commotion outside our hideaway. Our mother stepped in front of us, tense. There was a wrenching sound, then the latticework fell away and sunlight streamed in. A man and woman stooped down and peered at us, making friendly little sounds. My mother, wary, moved toward them, her thin body silhouetted against the glare. She sniffed their hands then allowed them to pet her. She turned to us and meowed, and we came to her. The man gently scooped all four of us kittens up at once in his arms and placed us in a crate. He called to my mother, who looked at us in the crate, glanced to the side toward freedom, looked at us again, then climbed into the crate. We pressed against her body on the jostling ride.
We came to a place of meowing cats and barking dogs and talking people. A woman carried us to a cage in a back room. Another woman draped our mother across her shoulder, petting her, and brought her to join us. There was a bowl of water, into which I dipped my nose and sneezed repeatedly. There was a bowl of food that my mother ate, all at once. There was a soft blanket on which we slept and passed the time together.
People came and went—tall people and little people, high voices and low voices, kind hands that pet us and fed us. My mother grew less boney. We grew bigger.
An older man came one day, white haired and angular. He opened our cage and petted each of us with exquisite tenderness, then the spoke to our mother. They regarded each other for some time, as though something was passing between them. Before he took her away, he held her near each of us. We touched noses with her, and then she was gone.
Two days later, two of my siblings were adopted by a young couple, and three days after that, my remaining sibling was adopted. The cage had a lot of space to move in, but I missed the sense of belonging and deep comfort that came from my family’s nearness. The people who cared for me were kind, picked me up, and spoke to me, but mostly they were bustling about caring for so many cats.
At night the shelter grew quiet and peaceful. The moon came through the bars of my cage, bluing the floor and my black fur. In its soothing light, I slept deeply.
One day a woman came and paused before each of the cages. I liked the way she moved, like a blade of tall grass in the wind. She lay her open palm against the door of each cage and talked softly to the cats. When she came to my cage I stretched my arm out toward her and blinked slowly—the language of cat love. She asked someone if she could hold me.
When the door swung open, I walked into her outstretched arms, settled in, and reached up and touched her face with my paw. She laughed, a lovely, silvery sound, stroked my fur, and said something to the shelter person. I went home with her.
Sometimes I dream of my mother and siblings, a far-off memory now. In my dreams each of them has someone to love.
Some have the mistaken belief that shelter cats aren’t adoptable, that they’re in the shelter for behavioral and other problems. Generally this is not true. Cats land in shelters because 2% of lost cats ever find their way home… because unscrupulous owners abandon them…because their people die…. Please consider adopting from a shelter. There are 70 million homeless cats in the U.S.
About www.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 seek new action ideas, as well as animal and rescue stories, from you…. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org