Love animals by respecting them

Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay 

A contract worker at the Naples (Florida) Zoo recently scaled a 4.5-foot fence into an unauthorized area and apparently tried to pet or feed Eko, an endangered Malayan tiger (not the one pictured). The sheriff’s deputy who responded to the man’s 911 call, after unsuccessfully trying to get the tiger to let go of the man’s arm, fatally shot the animal in order to save the man’s life.

The 26-year-old was left with serious injuries. The zoo staff was left to grieve. We all are left with another needless death of an endangered animal.

As misguided as his actions were, it’s possible this young man loved animals. If so, what he tragically missed was that we love animals by respecting them.

Respect means not squeezing the hamster or running up to the dog. It means taking the frog back to the creek when we’re kids and not polluting the creek when we’re adults. It means recognizing that a wild animal, even one in a zoo, is not on earth for our amusement but for our protection.

For everyone’s well-being, interacting with wild animals has to be left to the professionals, who themselves have required safety practices. Big cats and their domestic counterparts have much in common, but what constitutes aggression or acceptable behavior is not the same for a tiger as it is for a house cat.

That’s why calling this a “tiger attack,” as several media outlets have, is a mistake. Eko may have mistaken the man’s arm for food and was trying to take it back to his den, not pull the man into the habitat. This person violated the tiger’s space, not the other way around.

Zoos vary, but I’ve visited the Naples Zoo many times and have seen the conscientious care given to the animals. This is no roadside outfit with cramped cages and indifferent staff. It’s accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, whose standards I understand to be pretty strict.

The folks at the Naples Zoo understand the importance of preserving and protecting vulnerable animal species and natural settings and inspiring others to care. This is important everywhere, but especially Southwest Florida, where the construction crane is (half) jokingly referred to as the state bird.

To honor Eko’s memory and help tigers like him — the breeding population is now below 200 in the wild — the zoo has established the Eko Tiger Conservation Fund. The zoo reports that 100 percent of the funds donated will help save tigers in Malaysia through the Wildlife Conservation Society. Donations can be made at with the word TIGER in the comment section, or by sending a check (payable to Naples Zoo) to Naples Zoo, Eko Tiger, 1590 Goodlette Rd N, Naples, FL 34102-5260.

Support wildlife preservation with your time and talent. Sponsor an animal at your local zoo or sanctuary. The next time you go there and see your favorite tiger, gorilla, red panda, or whoever else, send them love from your safe space outside their habitat. They’ll get it.

Let’s love animals, especially the dangerous and endangered, in a way that lets us all live another day.

Scratching the surface of science on Reiki, animal communication

Image by Daga_Roszkowska from Pixabay 

What does science say about the effectiveness of animal Reiki, or about the way we humans can communicate with animals?

What we know (or hypothesize) about anything today may only scratch the surface of what we’ll figure out tomorrow.

There are a few studies about Reiki, but not many about animal Reiki specifically. Here’s what I found in late 2021:

• The American Kennel Club recently published a story on the benefits of Reiki for pets, also citing a study you can find on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website. That 2017 (human) study, published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, indicates Reiki is better than a placebo. In particular, it “activates the parasympathetic nervous system to heal body and mind. It has potential for broader use in management of chronic health conditions, and possibly in postoperative recovery. Research is needed to optimize the delivery of Reiki.”

• An Innovative Veterinary Care Journal article also touts the benefits of Reiki to animals, especially in clinical settings. This one cites an animal-specific 2008 study, “Reiki Improves Heart Rate Homeostasis in Laboratory Rats,” from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. It showed Reiki reduced heart rate and blood pressure in noise-stressed rats.

• Kathleen Lester’s 2019 article in the Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Association, “Reiki as Complementary Care in Veterinary Medicine,” cites numerous scholarly sources to discuss how Reiki can benefit not only animals but the veterinary staff caring for them. (With a shortage of veterinarians exacerbating an already stressful job, I think this will be increasingly important.)

I found a bit more research on human-animal communication:

Dogs have some understanding of what we say and how we say it, Hungarian scientists found. They trained a group of family dogs to enter an MRI machine and scanned the way their brains responded to not only words but their tone. The study appeared in the journal Current Biology in 2014.

Two books reviewed in the Christian Science Monitor further delve into research on how attuned our canine companions are to our emotions, speech, and behavior. Alexandra Horowitz, cognitive scientist and author of Inside of a Dog, followed that bestseller up with Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Singular Bond. Clive D.L. Wynne, a dog behavioral scientist examines that bond in Dog Is Love: The Science of Why and How Your Dog Loves You.

Cats react to the sound of their names, according to a group of Japanese scientists whose study appeared in the journal Scientific Reports. Monique Udell, an animal behaviorist at Oregon State University, told the Associated Press the study shows “cats are paying attention to you, what you say and what you do, and they’re learning from it.”

Goats prefer positive human facial expressions, says a UK-based study published by The Royal Society. “These findings suggest that the ability of animals to perceive human facial cues is not limited to those with a long history of domestication as companions, and therefore may be far more widespread than previously believed,” the authors concluded.

• Norwegian researchers taught 23 horses to express their needs using symbol boards — for example, to request a blanket on a cold day. “When horses realized that they were able to communicate with the trainers, i.e. to signal their wishes regarding blanketing, many became very eager in the training or testing situation,” the authors wrote in their study, which appeared in Applied Animal Behaviour Science. “Some even tried to attract the attention of the trainers prior to the test situation, by vocalizing and running towards the trainers, and follow their movements.”

When you look at any study, pay attention to who conducted the research, who paid for it, and whether any conflicts of interest are disclosed.

Also keep in mind that many factors influence what we believe about the legitimacy of animal communication, Reiki, or anything else.

Scientific inquiry, by nature, is ongoing, so please send or post a link to any animal Reiki or animal communication study you find that I didn’t!

And, as they used to say on television: Stay tuned.

Cats and Christmas trees: Game over


As soon as the Christmas tree went up, our cat started chewing on it.

It was a fake tree. It can’t have tasted good, and I tried to make it taste even less good with a little hot pepper wax spray on the lower branches. But Dusty kept coming back and nibbling.

Dusty in one of her less criminal moments.

I told her how dangerous it was. My partner and I tried to distract her with toys, which worked until it didn’t. We told her no, which sent her scampering out of the room. Until she came back and headed straight for the tree.

Finally, it looked like Dusty was leaving the tree alone. Then she threw up a bunch of the fake needles, prompting an emergency vet visit.

Thankfully, Dusty was OK. We would watch for any signs of blockage or bleeding for a couple of weeks.

The tree, however, was un-decorated, taken down, and put away by noon the day of the emergency vet visit. It wasn’t worth the risk.

When I communicated with Dusty about the ordeal, what I got was that she was surprised when she threw up the fake tree needles … and even more surprised at our anxiety, and at being whisked off to the vet. She thought we were enjoying the “keep the cat away from the Christmas tree” game as much as she was, so it continued. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out a way to call off the game without removing the hazard.

Maybe this is actually “why we can’t have nice things.” Living with cats and other creatures sometimes requires us to forego nice things in favor of better things.

I found some Christmas tree cat-proofing ideas here. The article notably does not rule out skipping the tree in favor of a wreath on the front door! I’m sure we will end up finding a Christmas tree alternative as well.

Christmas was never really about the decorations, anyway.

Image by mskathrynne from Pixabay