Category Archives: Menagerie

Animal Communication workshop, day 1

Today I attended the first day of a two-day basic animal communication workshop with Mary J. Getten. So. Much. Fun.

I have always wanted to communicate with animals. Animals are my life, and to communicate with them… well, there is no higher blessing. So through the years I’ve read books, and I’ve practiced now and then, but I’ve had only limited success.

I have always known — and Mary said it’s nearly always true — that I’m a better sender than receiver. Two examples:

  1. Anyone who has every moved a pet to a new house knows how stressed they get. It is, in fact, in credibly common to lose pets during the transition. I read an animal communication book that said to just talk to your animals and tell them very clearly what’s happening, what will happen, why it’s happening, what it means to the dog, etc. So when we moved to Duvall, I did that for Rain (an extremely insecure dog) and Pax. Neither dog showed even minor stress about the move, during or after. They transitioned to the new house as though they’d been visiting here for years.
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  2. I tried an exercise from an animal communication book where you visualize an image and send it to your dog. This was right before we got horses, so I decided to send a picture of a breed of horse I liked. I happened to have a call with an animal communicator the next week, and I asked her if she could ask Pax what image I had been sending him. She said, “A black and white horse with feathers?” I had been sending a picture of a Gypsy Vanner.

I have had only one clear experience as a receiver, however, and that happened just a couple of weeks ago.

Miss Pflouff had been coming inside from the yard soaked in urine. It was like she had lain in a puddle of it… but there were no puddles. Or like she had peed while she was lying down, but she was clean and dry around her own lady bits. She was too tall for the boy dogs to hike their legs and get her back like that. I had no idea how this was happening, but it was happening regularly.

One morning she jumped up on the bed to tell me good morning, and when I leaned over to kiss her head, BAM! An image just appeared in my head. I saw her squatting to pee, and one of the boy dogs lifting his leg to mark her spot — while she was still peeing. I wasn’t thinking of the situation, and I had never even thought of that possibility, but I saw it plain as day.

So I believed it was possible, but I had never been able to open that channel at will.

Today was the first day of the workshop. There are sixteen students, plus Mary. Some are experienced; some are just like me. She explained to us that learning animal communication is like learning a foreign language. You don’t go to a class and come out speaking fluently overnight. You learn a few words. Then you get haltingly conversational. Then a bit better. And only with time, practice, and immersion do you get really fluent.

Today we didn’t practice actual animal communication. We talked about various aspects and did some exercises and meditations to help prepare us.

We did the COOLEST exercise with a partner. We sat face to face and visualized a tube connecting us heart to heart. One of us was the sender and the other the receiver. Mary would say a color — out loud, so we both knew. The sender was supposed to pick a shade of that color, pick an object or objects in that shade, try to imagine how it feels, etc. Then the receiver had to say what he received. Each person was the sender twice and a receiver twice.

My partner and I got all four right!!!!! The colors and our objects were:

  • Pink / Pepto Bismol
  • Orange / Orange juice
  • Yellow / Baby chick
  • Purple / Eggplant

I was a better sender than receiver. I sent pink and yellow. She said both correct answers IMMEDIATELY — no hesitation or working up to it.

I got the right answers for mine, but I kind of worked my way to it.

  • For orange, I said, “Orange Crush, and I see an orange with juice spurting out of it.” But I never actually made the leap to “orange juice.”
  • For purple, I picked up the color Mary was going to say before she said it, and then had to push an image of Barney out of my head. LOL. I knew it didn’t come from my partner. I saw like thick swirls of slick, deep purple oil paint, then it turned into an eggplant. And she was sending eggplant.

Tomorrow morning we work with live animals, and then tomorrow afternoon we work with photos. I’m not taking one of my dogs — there are only going to be a couple there and they needed to be smaller and cat-friendly — but I have photos of both my dogs and horses ready to go.

By the way, when I decided to do this, I prayed for help from St. Francis, Patron Saint of Animals. And he really came through! Thank you, St. Francis!

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Update on Blue

Last summer I officially rehomed my gelding, Blue, with his 13-year-old soul mate, Heidi. She had leased him for a couple of years under the tutelage of his trainer (and amazing clicker trainer), Leslie Peeples. They’ve made great progress together. He’s a fun horse with a great sense of humor, and Heidi gets that. She is patient with him and willing to explain things to him in a language he understands. It’s a fantastic match.

Heidi sent me this update the other day:

Hi Melissa!

Blue and I have made some new developments lately and I thought you might want to hear about them. In order to get the whole story, I’m going to have to explain.

Well last month, I started working on lots of reining stuff, fencing, spins, stops, etc. He actually did his first sliding stop (all of 8 inches) which he has yet to do again. Anyway I got to thinking, and I was like, you know what? I miss gaming — maybe I should start doing it with him. I’m sure he would enjoy the challenge. Well right as I decided maybe I would do this, a big snow storm hit and it was like 16 inches of first snow, then ice.

So during the 10 days I had sitting at home doing nothing in the snow I read every barrel racing tip and training plan my favorite barrel riders/trainers had ever written. So when the snow went away I was properly armed with all the info I needed to start my training schedule. I spent 3 days walking him around the barrels (stopping at the “rate” point, where he is eventually supposed to slow and shorten his stride, and clicking him when he stopped on his own and did nice turns).

It was all going perfectly until I got bronchitis and an ear infection. 12 days of lying on the couch watching daytime TV (I might add daytime TV is not especially interesting or educational in any way) and thinking about how I was going to incorporate clicker training into gaming with Blue.

So today I was FINALLY able to ride him again and was pleasantly surprised. I walked the barrel pattern about 3 times then decided he felt ready to try trotting to the barrels and slowing to a walk at the rate point and walking around the barrel. As I started doing it with this sequence, I was extremely surprised — after about 2 times doing it, he would trot up to the barrel and before I even got the chance to sit and cue him to walk, he would walk right at the exact point I will eventually want him to rate (shorten his stride and slow a little). According to what the pros were saying, he shouldn’t be self rating for at least another few weeks. I thought about it, and I was like, gosh am I lucky to have such a smart clicker horse.

Anyway, Blue and I have been enjoying the adventures of training a clicker gaming horse. So far I have only patterned him on barrels and figure 8 stake race. Eventually I will pattern him on all the events. He’s not going to be one of those crazy free runners — he’s going to run more of a ratey push style pattern (at least I hope).

Anyway, I’m working on reining and sometimes western pleasure as well as gaming right now. He, being the smartest horse I know, is taking it all in stride (pun intended). Sorry about practically writing a novel in your email. This was probably totally pointless and boring to read BUT being the one who picked him out and brought him into my life, you deserve all the updates on his life no matter how boring :).

And then she delighted me with a picture and another update the next day:

More good news today! I started out practicing figure 8 today and he was totally acing trotting the pattern, so I decided despite being 4 days ahead of schedule, I would take the next step and start loping in between the barrels/poles and trotting around the barrels/poles.

The first two times I did it like this on figure 8, he was pretty shaky and confused so I walked the pattern once and did something else before I came back to trying the loping again. Third time’s a charm ’cause he was PERFECT. He self rated, got all the leads right, and stayed under control.

After giving a hefty amount of treats for this, I went to try it on the barrel pattern. At first he was pretty confused and got a little out of sorts and frustrated, so I took a deep breath, petted him to reassure him, walked the course twice, and practiced other things for about 10 minutes. When I went to try it again, he did it PERFECTLY. It just clicked in his brain all the sudden and he got it right.

So after that he got lots of reward and we quit for the day. Anyway I’m so impressed with how he is improving by leaps and bounds already.

BTW the picture I have attached is of him in his gaming stuff (minus the barrel saddle cause the fit hasn’t been approved by Leslie yet).

Isn’t he adorable? Isn’t she an amazing trainer? I’m encouraging her to start a blog to document her training. I think it would be great for her to document her plans and what works and what doesn’t. Pictures and video would be fun too!

I think Blue is incredibly blessed to have her and Leslie in his life. He’s one happy pony!!! And I’m happy to get to watch them learn and grow together.

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Happy birthday, Pax!

My dearest Pax is 10 years old! The pups in his litter were born during the late night hours of Oct. 8, 2001, into the early morning hours of Oct. 9. Not sure which day is his official birthday. This picture was taken that very first day. He was the blue collar black boy — I think that’s him on top of the pile.

Here he is on day 3. I find it hard to believe he was ever this tiny.

In the litter, he was the first boy to open his eyes, and he was the most adventurous of the black boys when they were taken out of the whelping room for the first time. Here he is exploring the deck on his first trip outside.

Their whelping room became a playground as they got a little older. I love this picture of him napping under a ramp.

I fell in love with him as soon as he came home. My beloved Great Pyr, Satch, passed away one month after Pax came home. I think he had been waiting for me to have another heart dog, and Pax most definitely was that. He would crawl into my arms to sleep, and it just melted my heart. He bonded to me as closely as I bonded to him. Jay and my friend Debi tried to give me a break one night so I could get some uninterrupted sleep. Pax climbed over a baby gate and lay in my discarded clothes until Jay came up and put him in bed with me. He curled up against my stomach and was instantly asleep.

He has slept at my feet nearly every night since. (Except when we travel. If we stay in a motel with two queen-sized beds in the room, he claims one and sleeps with his head on the pillow and legs stretched out to take up as much room as he can.) In the mornings, he crawls up to the top of the bed and snuggles with me. It’s my favorite time with him.

Pax means “peace,” and he lives up to his name. I call him my Gandhi-dog, but the name isn’t really right. He doesn’t like to fight, but if he’s forced into one, he doesn’t back down. He and Aslan got into two big fights, and both times he kicked Aslan’s butt. (Much to Aslan’s dismay and mortification.) Those are anomalies though. He is a gentle, peaceful, loving soul.

For the longest time, he was ageless. Six, seven, eight… no one could believe his age. So young and energetic, such a delightful personality. But then the years began to show. He has cataracts now, and his hearing isn’t what it used to be. We keep a close eye on his health, and so far, so good, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t worry me. His father lived to be 13, and that suddenly feels so close. I want to freeze time, to keep him here right now, healthy and happy and with me. But I can’t. All I can do is cherish every minute I do have with him.

I love you, my dearest boy. You are the best part part of my heart.

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River

I tried, tried, tried to get at least one photo for this post, but really:

  • My camera sucks.
  • I have a black dog.
  • I suck as a photographer.

Yeah. That means no cute smiling dog photo.

River, our youngest curly coated retriever, is now 11 and a half months old. He was the runt of his litter, so it was natural, when we got him, to call him Little Bit. He was just a little bit of a thing, especially next to Pax and Pflouff. Now the nickname seems ironic — like calling the bald guy “Curly.” He is the tallest of the three and the second-heaviest. And he’s still growing. Little Bit will be our  largest dog when he matures. Even bigger than the Newf.

From the beginning I noticed something odd about him. He loved to run, loved to wrestle, but he almost never jumped. If he couldn’t climb up, he put his front paws up and waited to be lifted. That was not normal, not for a puppy of any breed, much less a curly. In March I took him to the vet and had his hips x-rayed. The ball and socket of his left hip joint didn’t fit well.

For the record, I don’t believe this was breeder error. He has an awesome breeder, Dawn Fleming in Ohio, who did all the research and health checks. (No dysplasia in either side of the pedigree for generations.) River was the runt of the litter and developmentally behind his siblings throughout his early life. My personal theory, truly, is that he just wasn’t done baking yet. No one’s fault.

The vet referred us immediately to a specialist, Dr. Byron Misseghers at Puget Sound Animal Hospital. Dr. Misseghers recommended a triple pelvis osteotomy (TPO) on that hip. It shot the budget for working on the house this summer, but we didn’t hesitate — not about money anyway. We were scared to death about the post-surgery recovery process. River is a somewhat. . . emotionally fragile. . . dog. Would he be able to handle eight weeks in a crate? Would I? I was an emotional wreck when I left him for surgery. I understood then why parents fall apart when their children are in the emergency room. He was so frightened, and I was so helpless. I still choke up thinking about it.

He came through the surgery amazingly well. When we picked him up the next day, he was walking without a limp — even the surgeon and vet techs were amazed. I was armed with a bag full of antibiotics, pain pills, and sedatives. A dear friend of mine had been a vet tech at this vet hospital for five years and had a dog go through the same surgery. “Use the sedative,” she told me. “It will make the confinement bearable for both of you.”

I took her advice to heart. The first week was easy — much, much easier than I’d ever dreamed possible — because he was on so many meds and still healing. He was in his crate except when he had to go out to pee, on leash only, straight out and straight back in. I put the crate near my desk, and I moved a mattress downstairs to sleep next to him, so he wouldn’t be alone at night. When he came off the bulk of the meds, we had to up the sedative a tiny bit. He began to get a little more restless and a little more vocal. We followed the vet’s instructions to the letter, though: crate rest, on leash to pee, no stairs, no playing with the other dogs.

After four weeks, he had follow up x-rays. The vet said they looked great, and so he lightened the restrictions. Still no stairs and no playing with the other dogs, so he moved from his crate to an ex-pen in the same area. Through the next few weeks we increased him freedoms gradually. Off leash to pee. Access to a larger area with some stairs. Pax (who won’t wrestle) in the area with him. Despite the added freedoms, those were difficult weeks. He had been a good soldier for the first few weeks, but he was making it clear now: He was DONE. It was time to be a real dog again.

On June 4, eight weeks post-surgery (almost — it was three days early because it got too hot to restrict him to his ex-pen), River was given his final freedom: access to Pflouff. I don’t think they’ve stopped wrestling since. “River, stop torturing your sister!” has again become the most often heard mantra of the house. I and all three dogs have moved back upstairs to the master bedroom with my husband.

What does it mean long-term? I don’t know. I hope it means that he’ll have essentially normal hips and be mostly pain-free throughout his life. He isn’t jumping much, but that could be habit rather than pain. He won’t ever be an agility dog, but I’m okay with that. I just want him to be happy and healthy.

And now that he’s a completely normal teenager again, I want him to grow up and stop torturing his sister. You know, I kind of liked him in the box. . . .

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Coyotes

The world fundamentally changes the first time you hear a pack of hunting coyotes in full voice. At least that was River’s experience last night.

I took River (and Pflouff) out to pee at 1:45 this morning. The coyotes were across the street at our neighbors’ place, raising holy hell. Our neighbors raise alpacas, and although an adult alpaca (especially one in a paddock with her buddies) isn’t likely to be on the menu for coyotes, a baby cria could be. Our neighbors are intelligent people, though, and their entire property is surrounded by 5-wire New Zealand fence — very hot electric wire nicknamed “coyote fence” for a reason. So the coyotes surrounded the pastures they couldn’t reach and made a nuisance of themselves.

No lights at the neighbors’ house, so they might have slept through the whole thing. Not River. When he went outside, his whole body went on hyper-alert. Pflouff ran to the front, ready to confront the intruders if they dared to come near her fence. River ran back inside. I had to carry him back out and shut the door to get him to pee. When we went back to bed, he couldn’t settle. He sat up, alert and listening, for an hour and a half until the coyotes left.

I don’t blame him. The first time I heard them, I thought we were being attacked by banshees. The sound a pack of coyotes makes is eerie, otherworldly. When dogs bark, they bark at the same time, but they bark their own individual pattern:

Dog #1: Bark bark growl snarl bark!
Dog #2: Growl bark whine bark bark!
Dog #3: Woof growl bark woof growl!

Coyotes are different. It’s as though each one barks the same pattern, but each starts the pattern a fraction of a second later than another:

Coyote #1: Yip yip bark growl yip bark
Coyote #2:     Yip yip bark growl yip bark
Coyote #3:        Yip yip bark growl yip bark
Coyote #4:            Yip yip bark growl yip bark

It gives a terrifying, echo-like quality to the singing that adds to the impression they’re all around you.

I’m not worried about River. He was fine this morning, and he’ll learn through experience that the coyotes won’t come near our dog fence. He is small enough right now that he *could* be a coyote dinner, but that won’t be true for long, and it’s not likely he’ll be harassed with me, Pax, and Pflouff around. The coyotes are annoying, but they’re not stupid!

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