Letting animals choose lets them be their best

(Photo by Nancy Crowe)

The massive draft horse was one of the saddest, checked-out animals I have met. He’d spent years on at least one Amish farm, was isolated and probably abused, and had given up. After he was rescued, his new owner wanted to find out what he needed.

The first thing I did was ask if it was OK to communicate with him. Surprised but skeptical, he agreed. The notion that he could choose anything was foreign to him.

Within a week or so, he told me what he wished to be called: Duke.

When I offered to share Reiki with Duke, I made it clear that opting out was absolutely fine. As we worked together during those first months, sometimes it was a yes and sometimes a no. How long the session lasted was also up to him.

That is the core of the Let Animals Lead method I practice. It’s all meditation and no hands unless the animal initiates contact, or the practitioner knows the animal well enough to gauge whether that would be welcome.

One day Duke decided he’d had enough Reiki and walked back into the barn. I thanked him and moved on to a pig a few feet away.

A few minutes later, Duke stuck his big head out the barn door and looked straight at me. “Got any more of that?” I heard. I assured him I did, but he’d have to wait until the pig and I were done. When I returned, he was waiting at the fence. I met his eyes and saw hope.

His owner, veterinarians, equine bodyworkers, clients, and I all worked to help Duke heal from the effects of his past, giving him choices whenever possible. Two years later, he still struggles mightily with triggers. But he has friends in the herd. He connects with veterans who also live with PTSD. He even let kids dress him up for the Fourth of July. Being a therapy horse would have been an unthinkable job a couple of years ago.

While we can’t let our animals choose to play in traffic or opt out of a vet visit, there are many other options we can offer. We can give them a choice of toys, blankets, or litter boxes. We can hold out two different treats and see which gets gobbled up first. We can let cats come to us rather than picking them up. We can suggest a walk or a ride and pay attention to the dog’s body language for a “let’s go” or a “not today.”

Choice frees us all to engage honestly, be our best selves, and create our “better than before.”

Speaking up for neglected horses

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This is one of 16 malnourished, neglected horses taken from a northeast Indiana property in January 2018. (Photo courtesy Friends of Ferdinand)

Sixteen horses — first 10, then another six — were rescued from a Wells County, Indiana property in January 2018. All were malnourished, and some had untreated infections and injuries.

A few, including two of the six horses I worked with, did not survive. Others returned to their previous owners or found new ones, but faced a long and difficult healing process.

The case was all the more disturbing because the person responsible was known and trusted by area horse owners and rescuers. Yet, according to the conversations that followed, there were previous signs that all was not well.

What can we pull from this to create a better outcome the next time something doesn’t seem quite right, but we don’t know what to ask or how to help? How can we get better at spotting signs of animal abuse and neglect, speaking up, listening, and following through?

As I write this, winter is coming. That’s when many of these heartbreaking situations come to light, and when it’s difficult to respond.

I’m not a veterinarian, horse handler, or law enforcement officer. My job with horses is to listen to them, and to the people who love and care for them, and offer a calm presence that allows healing. But as a journalist of many years, I also wanted to offer some quality information that might prove useful to those of us in northeast Indiana and beyond. Here’s what I found.

• These two articles were both sparked by the Wells County case: When to Speak Up: Red Flags & Warning Signs for Reporting Abuse in Horse Nation; and If you see something, say something by Carleigh Fedorka, a horse handler and postdoctoral researcher who was part of the same network as the neglected horses’ owner.

• Another, Neglected, abused and abandoned horses: How to help in Equus Magazine, was written earlier but includes helpful information on staying on the right side of the law in these situations.

• Also of note: Friends of Ferdinand, which played a key role in the rescue of the horses in the above case, received a Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding in 2018. This story talks about how other rescue organizations stepped in to help.

Creating a better world for horses (and everyone else) does, in fact, take all of us.

‘I get it. But I don’t like it.’

Image by sianbuckler from Pixabay

As an animal communicator, I occasionally hear or sense this from our four-legged and other friends.

Usually it’s because their human has asked me to help them understand an upcoming move, addition to the family, or other change. Or maybe he or she has hired me to help sort out a behavioral issue.

The animal understands the situation. He may understand what the human wants. But you’re not seeing the change you hoped for.

“I get it. But I don’t like it.”

So the animal keeps nipping, scorning the litter box, or refusing to load. The problem continues after the vet visit, the session with me, your efforts to help, or all of the above. What on earth can you do?

First of all, understand that I can make your wishes known to your animal, but there is no guarantee she will comply. Compliance isn’t the point anyway.

So back to the “what can you do” part:

Let it be. You want to do something — anything — to resolve this problem yesterday, but remember you’ve already planted the seeds for something better.

Some situations resolve themselves in ways understood only by the animal. The cat decides the new baby isn’t a hairless monster. The horse loads when another person tries. The dog feels better and eats the special diet more readily.

You may choose to do something else tomorrow. Today, let go and see what happens. The animal will feel the change in your energy.

Give the animal a choice. Offer an additional litter box. Try getting the donkey onto the trailer tomorrow rather than force him today. If your dog doesn’t want to be around your boyfriend, let her stay where she feels safe.

Letting the animal choose boosts her confidence in herself and in you. That can only improve your relationship and the situation.

Savor (and reward) the small victories. The new cat and the current cat come within three feet of each other without hissing. The dog stops barking the first time he’s asked. This is great! Pony up (so to speak) with praise, a treat, or a play session

Ask for more help. Your animal may be telling you she needs (if you’ll pardon a tired old job rejection phrase) to move in a different direction. If you are still struggling, I will do my best to refer you to a trainer, organization, business, veterinarian, another practitioner or communicator, or someone else through trusted sources. Or you can ask a trusted friend for referrals. It does take a village.

Similarly, don’t hesitate to (diplomatically) let your veterinarian know that you need some other ideas. He or she is on your side, and on your animal’s side.

Also remember every state has veterinary schools — Purdue, here in Indiana — whose mission it is to help people help animals.

There are ways to bridge the gap between understanding and integrating. As with us humans, it may take patience, creativity, and additional support.