Allison's Book Bag

From the Cat Trio and the Solitary Dog….

Our owners have bought their first house. All of us are moving this month. We’re sad but excited.

We’re sad because we have a lot of memories at our rental. It’s where Cinder recovered from stomatitis and had to wear a cone, but also where she learned how to do agility and discovered the wonders of basements. Whenever Cinder needed time alone, she’d retreat to the basement and soon her mood improved. The rental is actually the ONLY home that Bootsie has ever known. It took her weeks to venture beyond one room. Then her curiosity won over her fear. Soon she discovered the fun of cat towers and TV shows. The rental is where Rainy proved herself a troublemaker by knocking books and dolls off shelves and insisting that cats should be allowed on counters. It’s also where Rainy grew up and showed her family how much of a snuggle bug she is.

We’re excited because of everything our owners have told us our new house. It’s much bigger inside and so we won’t be as crowded. Our owners tell us now there will be more room to have guests. There are more windows. The front bay window looks out over a flower garden teeming with butterflies and how the back bay window looks out over a big yard dominated by a giant maple tree. We’re especially psyched about the basement. Our owners plan to set half of it up with agility equipment. We’ll even have a storage closet for all our stuff, instead of it being scattered through the house wherever there was space. Outside there is a deck. We’ll need to wear our leashes and harnesses to go out on it with our owners, but there’s going to be a lot of new smells to explore, and so we won’t mind. Lots of positives!

Our owners tell us the move will take most of this month. That means there won’t be postings of our stories for at least a few weeks. Instead we’ll be having adventures!

Want to start your week off with a smile? Visit Comedy Plus or Burnt Food Dude and see what others are sharing today.

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It was a perfect agility outing. On June 4, Andy and I made our second drive to Hearts United for Animals to train Rainy on the shelter’s agility equipment. Other than facing the humidity of a hot spring day, everything went well.

In contrast, when we first visited back in early May, pretty much everything had gone wrong. Rainy is a curious cat, but she still gets nervous around new people and places. On our first visit, she encountered sensory overload: We visited on a stormy day despite knowing that noise frightens Rainy; we brought her into the agility room normally used for dogs; we invited her into it while a dog and three people were still in the room; and we encouraged visitors to come by and watch her. There was no way she could feel comfortable or concentrate while all that was going on. To make matters worse, I made the mistake of bringing low-incentive treats (ordinary treats she received every day) instead of high-incentive treats (such as cheese or meat)”. Rainy therefore had no reason not to simply retreat instead of choosing to explore. And finally, although cats can go without water and litter box for several hours, I realized that bringing these might have added to her comfort. That first day was quite the learning experience!

On June 4, we were so much better prepared. We brought water, litter box, and goat cheese. We visited on a day when clear skies ruled. We ensured there were no strangers or dogs in the agility room. Rainy showed her appreciation. She didn’t try to retreat to the nearest wall or tunnel, but instead rolled around on the floor to leave her scent. Positive start!

Andy and I then allowed Rainy time to get her bearings. With Rainy in a harness and on a leash, I encouraged her to sniff tunnels, weaves, and other obstacles. When Rainy ducked into a tube and exited on the other side, I immediately gave her goat cheese. Even if she might not have been trying to do agility, I was going to reward Rainy for being inquisitive rather than afraid.

Then, like a mother bird pushing her young to fly, I pushed Rainy to try some of the contacts. I carried her to her favorite obstacle—the dog walk—positioned her at one end, and stuck a container of cheese in front of her. As soon as she moved forward to sniff the cheese, I began walking along the dog walk while holding the cheese in front of her. Happily, Rainy followed. All the way to the end!

From there, I led Rainy through a series of other obstacles. We tried the table and a jump. I got her to do the tube again by throwing cheese through it to the other side. By now, the dog walk was nothing, and so getting her to “Walk It” again was not a problem.

After doing these obstacles a few times, I once again pushed Rainy to new heights. I brought her to one of her least favorite obstacles—the A Frame—positioned her at the start, and stuck a container of cheese in front of her. Except I didn’t simply lure her by holding cheese in front of her. Instead I sprinkled cheese at the start, on the up side, on the down side, and at the end. After she successfully completed it, I brought her to another of her least favorite obstacles–the tunnel, and positioned her at the start. Here, I got her started by going in a few paces with her. All the while, Andy stood on the other end and called to her. As soon as her ears perked at his voice, unlike our previous visit, I stopped and let her finish on her own.

Once Rainy had attempted all obstacles except the weaves, Andy advised: “Let’s end on a positive note.” We’d been at it for less than 30 minutes, but that was enough for her second time. To wrap up, I ran Rainy through a mini-course. When she refused the A-Frame and tunnel, I didn’t push her but simply let her proceed to the jumps. At the grand finale, I rewarded her with plenty of goat cheese, praise, and caresses. We loaded everything into the car and began our one-hour drive back home where Rainy could look forward to a well-deserved nap with her sisters.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

Horse lovers will appreciate, as will history buffs and fantasy fans. The first title in a trilogy, Eclipsed by Shadow, tells the story of Meagan and her horse Promise, who just might be the “Great Horse” spoken of in legends. When Meagan attempts to rescue Promise from persistent thieves, the two of them end up taking an unexpected ride back through time in this well-written novel aimed at young people.

In many ways, Royce gets everything right. The ever so-critical first chapter is a gut-wrenching one. In it, Meagan and her parents face the choice of whether to save a pregnant mare or her foal. The mare had been raised by the family and had been their constant companion. But the foal would represent her only legacy, as the mare’s health wouldn’t allow her to have a second foal. The third-person omniscient characterization is meticulous. I knew not only how Meagan and her parents felt, but also how the veterinarian, potential buyer, and crafty thieves felt. This deepened my understanding of everyone involved, as well as heightened the suspense. When the thieves revealed that someone was attempting to collect seven interconnected horses, this made me suspicious until the potential buyer confessed her reason for wanting to own all seven horses. Then I instead felt concern for what might happen should she not succeed with her mission. The multiple settings are described in detail. Primitive North America, ancient Rome, nomadic Asia, and finally medieval Europe all come alive. My favorite periods were Rome and Europe. In the former Meagan encounters a suitor and in Europe she finds kindness from monks. In every situation, she also faces danger, which creates many instances of cliff hangers.

What about the novel doesn’t work? Between the first chapter and the time travel, the narrative drags. The three years between when Promise is sent away to pasture with other horses and is brought back to stay with Meagan are condensed into the about seventy pages, leaving me disconnected to the characters. True, it’s in these pages that I learn about that Promise should never be rode, and so my curiosity is piqued. Unfortunately, it’s also in these pages that Meagan turns rebellious, goes on dates, and turns into a typical teen. This plot line lacks spark. The good news is that once Meagan starts to time travel, John shows his talent as a storyteller. My one overriding concern at this point is not enough is revealed of the reasons why Promise could be a dark horse, and so I’m confused about why Meagan continues to time travel. The novel more closely resembles the episodic nature of a television series where each section contains a new story rather than the unified quality of a movie or full-length book. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’ve faithfully followed many television series over the years.

Eclipsed by Shadow has won awards for both gifted and reluctant readers. It’s also praised as a novel for readers of all ages. Despite some minor roughness, it’s a diamond in the world of horse books. There are two sequels, and I look forward to finding out what lies in store for Meagan and Promise.

With almost 80 million households in the United States owning a pet as of 2015, it should come as no surprise that our calendar year is filled with holidays celebrating our animal companions. These holidays might be a little too obscure to grant anyone a day off from work, but they still might give ideas about how to have fun with or honor pets. Last year to help Lincoln Animal Ambassadors visitors keep track of those very special dates, I began posting information about them. Here are links to all of the events you might have missed in August.

National Mutt Day: The need for mutt adopters is so great that, according to DogTime, two days have been set aside to “raise awareness about the plight of mixed breed dogs in shelters, and to remind potential pet parents that it’s the personality and not the pedigree that truly matters”. The goal of this biannual event, observed on July 31 and December 1, is to get 10,000 shelter mutts into the loving forever homes.

Universal Birthday for Shelter Dogs: Many dogs who wind up in shelters can’t be registered for official birthdays. Shelter workers might be able to estimate their age, but they can never know for sure. When these dogs of unknown origins finally find their forever homes, their family assigns them a random date–such as the adoption day itself–as a birthday. To rectify this sad situation, The North Shore Animal League America declared August 1 as Dogust or the universal birthday for all shelter animals whose birthdays are unknown.

National Check the Chip Day: No matter how careful we are, sometimes our pets get lost. And because they can’t tell people their address, the easiest way to get them back is to make sure they have ID. Tags are the traditional way to let people know who your pet belongs to, but it’s not enough. Collars can come off. Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, you can have a microchip implanted under your pet’s skin.

Take Your Cat to the Vet Day: The American Veterinarian Medical Association recommends that every pet have annual veterinary visits for preventive care. Yet less than half of cat owners in the United States take their cats to a veterinarian on a regular basis. In 2009, the company Feline Pine created Take Your Cat to the Vet Day to build awareness of the need for regular veterinary care for cats.

National Dog Day: Do you remember when you adopted your first dog? Pet & Family Lifestyle Expert and Animal Advocate, Colleen Paige created a national pet calendar event in honor of the first dog her family adopted. National Dog Day was founded in 2004 and is celebrated on August 26. Paige is also the founder of National Cat Day, National Puppy Day, and National Mutt Day, all designed to bring attention to the plight of homeless animals and encourage adoption.

Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day: Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day was founded by a fellow pet blogger, Deborah Barnes. The author of Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles, Deb created this special day in tribute to her Ragdoll cat, Mr. Jazz, whom she said goodbye to on August 28, 2013. Upon receiving overwhelming support for her book about his death (Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond), Deb decided to create the day in his honor as a way for others to share memories of their own departed pets.

Pet Holistic Day: Holistic Pet Day was started by pet advocate, Colleen Paige, to encourage owners to look at health care for pets. One of those methods is holistic health, wherein a pet’s diet, lifestyle, and environment are recognized as having a potential impact on its overall health. Some believe that holistic treatments will improve nutrition, increase pet energy, and even manage diseases or cure illnesses.

Missing from my roundup is: National Spoil Your Dog Day.

To read more, check out Pet Calendar Dates. There you’ll find details not only about the above, but about pet-related dates that fall throughout the rest of the year.

Cynthia Stuart was a professor of psychology, medical law and ethics, and has written many articles on the interaction of rats as therapy animals. She writes, “Human – animal bonds can be utilized in a therapeutic context in work that is geared towards developing positive relationships with fellow humans.” Her love of rats began in 2003 as an environmental educator for a mini-zoo that featured a family of rats abandoned on its doorstep. She’s the co-author of The Improbable Adventures of My Mischief. Thanks to her allowing me to reprint her article about rats as therapy animals.

A child’s ability to make friends, grow and maintain friendships over time not only reflects his current psychological health but his future psychological adjustment and success as an adult. When children are not progressing socially, this is a strong cue that something serious is going on. In fact, lack of friendships is often indicative of an underlying behavioral, emotional, psychological, and/or neurological problem. A meticulous evaluation is essential to sorting out not only what is going on but what therapeutic interventions are warranted. However, often, after only a brief interview, a diagnosis is formulated and a prescription is written. This is usually where treatment stops. Although medication may alleviate some symptoms, it does not teach coping strategies or skills absolutely essential to learning about relationships.

So, how do children learn to make friends? Their brains provide an internal framework for social learning but interaction and modeling fine tune the process. Yet, some kids do not naturally learn the essentials, namely social judgment and social skills. For those of us in the pet rat community, these rodents are considered one of the best pets available in terms of social interaction.

Cynthia and her supervisor

Cynthia and her supervisor

The growing interest and study in the field of human and animal interaction has in recent years had an increasing presence in clinical applications and the popular press. Quite understandably, the species most focused upon in discussions of the human and animal bond have been dogs and cats, which are the most popular companion animals as pets and therapeutic agents. Occasionally other species such as rabbits and fish are utilized in pet assisted therapy and appear in the literature. It is a reasonable assumption that rodents – particularly rats – are largely absent from the human – animal bond discourse.

In actuality, domestic rats (also known as Fancy Rats) disprove the popular myths of rats as dirty, disease ridden, vicious creatures. While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the species-specific characteristics that contribute to its desirable characteristics as a pet, for the purposes of this article I will be sharing with readers the unique personalities of Fancy Rats that are quite appealing for those of us who know and love Rattus norvegicus. I will also be discussing rats from a clinical aspect as well.

Rats are a highly social species. In the wild, they live together in large groups referred to as a mischief. As a strongly social creature, in a domestic setting a Fancy Rat socialized among humans usually transfers its socialization needs to its human “parents”. While it is recommended that pet rats be kept with others of their own kind, they still have a tendency to accept their human family as part of their mischief. Therefore, even when a number of rats are kept together, they maintain a strong need to physically and emotionally bond with their owners. Many rat owners enjoy playtime with their entire mischief. Pet rats greatly enjoy vigorous play and/or quietly “chilling out” with their humans, resting on shoulders and laps. In fact, it is considered cruel to keep rats strictly as cage pets. They require a significant amount of time with their owners, and express their affection to human family members by grooming (licking – similar to a dog), shoulder riding, snuggling inside shirts (which mimics nesting behavior), and curling up on laps. Rats also display affectionate behavior by bruxing (a chewing motion of the teeth that often makes a “clacking” sound) and boggling (eyes rapidly “popping” in and out) and, of course, squeaking excitedly. It is in the rat’s nature to seek physical contact. Wild rats engage in a behavior known as social sedation (commonly referred to as “rat piling” in the rat lovers’ community) in which the mischief rests itself in a heap. Some rat owners even take advantage of the high intelligence of their pets by teaching them tricks. This activity is not only fun for rat and human alike, but further contributes to the mutual socialization needs of both parties. Owners and their rat companions also compete in rat shows, organized much along the line of dog and cat shows. In terms of behavioral characteristics, rats are extremely interactive pets that display the affection and desire to interact with owners that people normally associate with dogs and cats.

For clinicians working with patients/clients and incorporating the human-animal bond into their work, pet rats offer an opportunity to explore issues with which such individuals are struggling. While I have not conducted empirical research on the topic, from an experiential perspective as a member of the pet rat community, I have noted that a significant number of pet rat owners are in treatment or, if not, are nevertheless struggling with psychopathology or emotional difficulties. In terms of the salience of life experiences with patients/ clients who are rat owners, possible avenues of further exploration may include themes of identification with a popularly maligned creature, perceived persecution (few animals experience the level of persecution placed on rats), and issues of loss (rat lovers experience loss on an all too frequent basis, as unfortunately these creatures have an average lifespan of 2 – 2 ½ years).

Niblet and the World

Niblet and the World

In addition, because of the aforementioned strong bonding that can occur between rats and humans, rats may be suggested as pets in a therapeutic context for animal loving individuals who are not rodent phobic. Rats can offer nonjudgmental acceptance and affection to patients/clients who have not had positive experiences with other people, and the dynamics of such rat – human bonds can be utilized in a therapeutic context in work that is geared towards developing positive relationships with fellow humans. A major caveat however, is the aforementioned short lifespan of rats, and the issues of loss that accompany such a strong, brief relationship. Although male and female rats are equally affectionate, a large percentage of females eventually develop tumors, thus cutting into their lifespan, something that should be considered if losses are difficult. Nevertheless, for those persons who are limited in their choices of pets due to such factors as apartment regulations, rats may be the ideal companions.

In sum, this animal loving psychologist strongly recommends pet rats for patient/client and clinician alike. There is a Fancy Rat for everyone, as they have been bred in a wide variety of coat colors, patterns and types. Fancy rats are highly intelligent, and most owners can enjoy watching them solve problems (Bulla, 1999). Most importantly, it is always a great experience to be welcomed after a long day in the consulting suite or classroom by a very excited group of animal companions hanging from the cage bars and begging for attention. Self-care par excellence!

This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of the American Psychological Association’s (Section 13 of Division 17, Society of Counseling Psychology) Animal- Human Interaction: Research & Practice Newsletter, March 2009 issue.

Suggested readings:
Akhtar, S. & Volkan, V. (Eds.). (2005). Mental zoo: Animals in the human mind and its pathology. Madison, WI: International Universities Press, Inc.
Bulla, G. (1999). Fancy rats: A complete pet owner’s manual. Hauppague, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.
It’s a Rats World magazine

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Fall 2017

This fall I will be on hiatus except to post family news. Stay tuned!

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