After being fed at 4 p.m. sharp (or preferably before), Lucy the black tortie settles into a chair to supervise my yoga practice. If I have the nerve to still be sitting in said chair, she sits and looks at me. Time to get moving.
Around 8:30, I can count on our younger cat to pace around pointedly until I follow her to the room where her bowls and litter box are kept. I give her a bedtime snack of three or four kibbles. We say our prayers and goodnight.
Our shepherd mix, whose anxiety casts the world as predictably unpredictable, knows she gets a dental treat at 7 p.m. If it’s not forthcoming by, say, 6:55, she will follow me around, panting, until she gets it.
Most of our animal friends expect certain things to happen at certain times with certain humans — comings, goings, feeding, walks, turnout, rides, bedtime. (Some animals I work with know when it’s time for my Reiki rounds, too!) Departures may be tolerated, but not especially welcomed.
According to this Brain Pickings article, routine contains everyday chaos while ritual imbues the mundane with the magical. With animals, I think those distinctions blur. Rescues in particular find magic in the most basic daily happenings. Over the last 15 months, they’ve dealt with disrupted routines along with us. Perhaps they’ve found magic in helping us develop new ways to contain our chaos.
Variety may be the spice of life, but routines and rituals add different spices — cinnamon, perhaps, or turmeric — to sustain us in an unsteady world. Like a good stretch, or bedtime prayers and purrs, they affirm that God is good and life, even in some small way, still makes sense.
Five horses and I had just settled in for a Reiki session when a loud boom shook the pasture. They scattered, then huddled. Then they looked at me.
A nearby pop-up fireworks store kept demonstrating its wares, neighbors were intermittently setting off their own, and nightfall would bring formal fireworks displays.
But this boom happened when I was there, and damned if we weren’t going to get a teachable moment out of it.
“Yeah, that was scary,” I told the horses, “but we’ve got this.”
Silently, I explained that it’s OK to be unnerved (they’d seen me jump too!) but it was just noise and they could handle it. I also let them know they’d hear more of it in the coming days and nights. I pictured them standing together at night, alert but not panicked, amid the pops and bangs and streaks of light.
Then we continued with Reiki.
Many horses, dogs, and other animals (not to mention humans) are frightened to the point of severe distress by fireworks. The ASPCA offers strategies to help them cope with both fireworks and thunderstorms; ask your veterinarian if you think sedation might be needed.
Otherwise: Keeping calm yourself, letting the animals know what’s happening, and affirming your confidence in their ability to cope can speak louder than the booms.
Friends of mine used to check their rescue cockapoo, Holly, into the kennel a day or two early so she wouldn’t see them packing. Holly, of course, knew they were going away long before the suitcases came out.
At this point in 2021, many folks are traveling again, perhaps with some anxiety. That’s on top of the usual anxiety over leaving pets behind if you are doing so. I have fought back tears when pulling out of the driveway or dropping somebody off at the vet clinic for boarding. Even when you trust those caring for your precious family member, when the moment comes, there may be pleading looks, trembling, and whining. The animal may not take it well, either.
However, you don’t have to deceive your cat or dog (you probably can’t anyway) to make the situation kinder.
The obvious place to start is with the best possible arrangements for your animal’s care, whether in your home with a relative, friend, or sitter coming in; at someone else’s home; or at a boarding kennel or vet clinic. Consider the animal’s individual needs and personality, and trust your intuition. (Got fish? Check out this very useful information from a fish veterinarian. Everything you may have assumed about vacation fish care is probably wrong.)
Once those plans are in place, here are a few ideas:
• Give it to ’em straight.With pictures. Tell the animal what you’re doing, who will care for him or her and where, and when you will be back. As you speak, calmly hold the corresponding images in your mind, because these — just as much as or more than your words — will get the message across.
For example, you could tell your dog: “We are going to visit Grandma next week, and Susan is going to come stay here and take care of you. Remember how much fun you had last time she was here? We’ll be back in four days.”
While you’re saying these things, picture Grandma … then Susan … then the dog playing with Susan last time … then the sun rising and setting four times … and finally, you coming back in the door with your suitcases.
• Acknowledge any challenges or negative feelings. “I know you got upset the last time you went to the kennel, and that was hard for me, too. We’re going to try it again. I’ll try to be braver and hope you will, too.” Again – picture it.
This respects both of you and sets the intention for a better outcome. It also affirms you as the decision maker. Again, get in charge of your own state of mind first; if you are angry or anxious, that will drown out whatever you’re trying to communicate.
• Check in. While you’re gone, you can call and have someone hold the phone out to Fluffy while you talk to her. Then you can listen as the human comes back on the line and tells you Fluffy twitched her ear and stalked off. Or you can skip this potential awkwardness and touch base telepathically. Yes, you can; there’s a reason some dogs (and cats, and birds, and horses, etc.) know when their people are on their way.
Find a (relatively) quiet moment, bring your animal companion to mind, and just say hello. Tell her you’re thinking of her, that you love her, and remind her when you will be home. You can leave it at that, or you can ask a question and listen for a response. Either way, she will appreciate you checking in.
Try one or more of these next time you travel, and please be safe.