Good company: Pets, guests, and communication

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If you’re having houseguests or bringing your pet to someone else’s home, communicating with the animals as well as the humans makes for a more relaxed visit. (Photo by StockSnap on Pixabay)

When we bring our animal friends on visits — or our guests bring theirs — it can be very, very good. To further paraphrase the nursery rhyme, it can also be horrid.

Communication among the humans is key, but the gathering can mean more fun and less drama if we also communicate with the animals. Here are a few suggestions to try next time you hit the road or host:

1. Do ask, and do tell.

Even if you brought your dog the last time, ask your host if it’s OK this time. You never know whose allergic aunt might be there, too. It’s also good to clarify with your guests about whether they’re bringing their Komodo dragon. (Never assume, I say.)

Either way, let your pet know what is going on before and during the visit. Yes, you can — especially if you are willing to take a few minutes and a few deep breaths, quiet the mental chatter and to-do list, and focus on your beloved animal.

Tell your animal friend, either silently or out loud, where you’re going, how you’ll get there, for how long, and who will be there. As you do so, hold pictures in your mind of you and your animal in the car, the trip, your friend’s house, and the other animals and people who will be there. Picture the sun rising and setting however many nights you’ll be there. If your dog had a blast playing with your brother’s dog or kids last time, picture that, too.

Ask the animal what would make the visit easier and more fun for her. What pops into your head? The word “blanket”? The image of a well-worn chew toy? Bring them along. (You probably have what my honorary daughter calls an adult diaper bag of supplies for your pet. There’s room.)

Or say your cat’s space is about to be temporarily invaded by your cousin’s Chihuahua and three toddlers. Again, picture them arriving and let the cat know how many nights they’ll be there. Ask not only for his forbearance, but what he prefers — to be part of the gathering? To be safely ensconced in another room with water, food, and litter box? Again, observe the images and feelings that come up. Follow through on what you can.

2. Boundaries are OK. Really.

You are your pet’s hall monitor, caretaker, and advocate. On new turf or with new beings in the house, it’s all the more important to let him know what’s expected, and that he can count on you.

Say you’re at Cousin Ned’s house, and he has a no-fur-on-the-furniture rule. Your dog may be used to lounging freely on your sofa. While you’re at Ned’s, quietly tell your dog that he has to stay on the floor … and picture him contentedly lying there. (He’ll know the difference between Ned’s house and yours, even if he doesn’t like it.)

You are also the one who has to politely but firmly insist that Grandpa not feed fried chicken to your overweight cat, or that your niece stop pulling your dog’s ears. Now.

Since you know your animal best, you want to be the first to see signs of overwhelm — growling, retreating, hiding, and even nipping. These are warnings in even the most good-natured creature. Do everyone a favor and move your pet to a quiet place away from the stressors. 

3. Set aside one-on-one time.

Whether you and your pet are the visitors or the home team, there are likely some territorial tensions and jealousies mere humanity cannot grasp. Your pet is sharing your attention with other humans and animals. Being mindful of this can make a huge difference in not only the visit but your relationship.

Spend even a few minutes alone with your animal each day of the visit. You can toss a ball, offer a belly rub or some lap time, or just sit and let her know you are there for her and only her in that moment.

This is also a great time to check in about what each of you needs. You may sense that he needs a little more space from the kids. You can also gently remind him what’s expected. For example: If jumping up on people is a problem, picture him doing that and you immediately putting him in another room. Then follow through when it happens.

And if you are feeling sad or stressed, your pet already knows. Tell her you may be a little short on patience and you need a bit of extra care right now. She will almost certainly be happy to oblige.

For more information on keeping gatherings safe and happy for animals, check out this article from the American Veterinary Medical Association. It’s geared toward the winter holiday season, but just about all of it applies year-round.

Do you hear what I hear?

As a city child connecting with nature, animals, and the bigger picture of Christmas, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” became a favorite. The story behind the song, which I learned only recently, deepens its meaning for me.

But first, the story in the song: The night wind speaks to a little lamb of a brilliant star. The lamb tells a shepherd boy of music high above the trees. The shepherd boy tells a king about a child shivering in the cold of a humble stable and worthy of riches. The king tells the people this child is the bearer of goodness and light … and exhorts all to pray for peace.

Each being tells another about what they see, hear, and know. They’re all experiencing a different aspect of what is happening. None of them are wrong.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” was written during the Cuban Missile Crisis by an American husband-and-wife team. According to this Franciscan Media account, French-born lyricist Noel Regney endured horrible trauma during World War II after being drafted to fight for the Nazis. The threat of catastrophic war in 1962 brought it all back as he faced the task of writing a Christmas song for a record producer.

Then Regney saw two babies in strollers smile at each other on a New York street. Their innocence reminded him of lambs … and there was the beginning of the song. At home, he wrote down the lyrics and asked his then-wife, pianist and composer Gloria Shayne, to write the music. Neither could get through the song without crying, Shayne recalled later.

That was the light they found and shared during during a dark time. We can share our light, too — through a smile, a prayer, a gentle pet, an ear scratch, a bag of food to an animal shelter or rescue. It doesn’t matter how small, stupid, or pointless we might think it is. That bag of food might help a lonely veteran keep his dog. Your smile at the woman at the grocery store may be the only kindness she experiences that day. That prayer may turn on a light for you.

“Pray for peace, people everywhere,” indeed.

Bing Crosby’s 1963 rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is probably the best known. I grew up with the Andy Williams version from the 1966 Great Songs of Christmas album. For this tribute to the animals I’ve worked with this year in my animal communication and animal Reiki practice — and their wonderful people — I chose Mannheim Steamroller’s instrumental version.

Just like the little lamb, the animals of our time tell brilliant stories of hope. I’ve heard a cat’s deep love for her person as she is ready to cross, a draft horse’s amazement at being able to choose, a deaf and blind duck giving life a chance, and more. For each one, I am grateful.

(Photo by Allison Wheaton)