Allison's Book Bag

This post is one in a series of three being reprinted for the Companion Animal Psychology Train for Rewards Blog 2018, which will officially run June 14-16. Although training methods are directly referred to here, training is an essential part of cats both receiving and keeping their certification.

Rainy and I have started our therapy cat visits! We alternate between two senior residences, for about an hour each Friday morning. My tote bag is always packed beforehand and ready with treats, toys, blankets, sanitary pet wipes, and camera. The morning of a visit I clip Rainy’s nails and brush a dry shampoo through her coat. When it’s time to head out, I put Rainy’s harness on her and load her into a crate. After we arrive at our destination, I load Rainy into her pet stroller. Then we spend an adventurous morning visiting seniors.

Rainy and I began our visits to one senior residence back in mid-January. Each time, we pick who to visit and how long to stay. We’ve gone four times, and Rainy has continued to improve.

On our first visit, Rainy started out shy but eventually relaxed. When I took Rainy to meet one of the activity directors, Rainy immediately hid under an office desk. Shaundra and I ignored her while we carried on our business. I handed Rainy’s medical records to Shaundra and swapped cat stories. Then Shaundra explained that the cat therapy program would mirror the dog therapy program: The apartment of each resident participating in the therapy dog program has a dog magnet at the top of its doorway. Naturally, cat magnets will now be used to signal which residents would like a visit from Rainy. After we finished deciding the details of our visits, Shaundra gave us a tour of the facility. At one point we paused to visit a cat-loving resident. By this point, Rainy felt comfortable enough to greet people and be petted. A successful start!

Shaundra encouraged us to not rush our progress. For that reason, we made only one stop on our second visit, and it was to the cat-loving resident that we had met previously. At first Rainy just stayed in her stroller while Jan and I chatted. Jan asked Rainy’s name and her age. She also shared some of her life story with me. During a lull in our conversation, I gave Jan treats to entice Rainy out of her stroller and into a chair. Rainy soon relaxed enough that she agreed to perform some tricks. Then she wanted a break and so I took her for a walk on leash in the hallway. When we returned to Jan’s room, Rainy allowed me to place her on Jan’s lap and for Jan to pet her.

It was on our third visit that Rainy showed how comfortable she had become with Jan. Upon entering Jan’s room, Rainy jumped out of her stroller, flopped onto the floor, and rolled her scent into the carpet and onto Jan’s feet. Then while Jan and I chatted, Rainy lay on a nearby chair and ate treats from Jan’s hands. At the end of our visit, I took photos of the two.

Our fourth visit did not go as smoothly. Rainy’s comfort level fell when I challenged her by taking her to visit additional residents. Our first stop was a quick one. We started with a lady who had just returned from breakfast and was bundling herself in blankets. She smiled at us and I exchanged some stories with her, but then she drifted off to sleep. The next stop lasted longer. The lady smiled and bubbled with conversation. She used to own a cat and wanted to know everything about Rainy. Despite the allure of treats, Rainy mostly stayed near me. Our last stop was to see Jan. Rainy snuggled with her while I share photos, but then Rainy hopped into her stroller and turned her back to us. Enough excitement for one day!

Rainy and I began our visits to the second senior residence in early February. Those interested in meeting Rainy sign up for a 15-minute time slot, and the visits take place in a common room.  We’ve gone three times, with mixed results.

On our first visit, six residents had signed up to meet Rainy. She mostly ignored the first visitor, preferring instead to explore the room. After that, she amazed me with her aptitude! Rainy seemed to figure out that the residents needed her and that her job was to provide comfort. She sat in the lap of the subsequent residents, let them pet her and talk to her, and gave them her full attention. One of those residents had lost a dog a few months earlier and still felt sad. She talked to Rainy the entire fifteen minutes. Finally, after six visitors and 90 minutes of socializing, I put Rainy back into her stroller for a well-deserved rest.”

Two weeks later, Rainy and I returned. During the first time slot, Rainy again mostly explored the room. After that, in contrast to our previous visit, Rainy remained restless. Her ears perked and her tail twitched at every little sound from the hall or parking lot. Her attention was clearly elsewhere. She even refused to sit with two of the residents. I left feeling as if the visit had been a disaster, and even questioned whether I was making the right choice in asking Rainy to be a therapy cat.

As soon as we got home, I posted my concerns to I-CAT. One member reassured me that it might simply be an issue of maturity. Rainy isn’t even three years old and so is still a “child.” Another member pointed out that it could simply be an issue of experience. Rainy has only been a therapy cat for two months! Several members recommended that I proceed more slowly with Rainy and to not push Rainy to sit in people’s laps. They advised that most residents will be happy simply to pet Rainy, and they suggested that I allow her to stay in her stroller or that I put her in a basket or on a chair. They also encouraged me to take more of a leadership role during our visits. If I’m nervous Rainy will pick up on those feelings. In addition, if I want Rainy to stay close to me, or if I want residents to let Rainy make the choice to sit with them, then I need to communicate this clearly through my words and actions. Members also agreed that I should reduce our outings from 90 minutes to 60, the latter being the average length of therapy pet visits.

To my relief, our most recent visit was a positive one. On our way to the senior residence, I took Rainy to the pet store. I did this so Rainy will associate car rides with all kinds of outings. Then when I set up in the senior center’s common room, I gave Rainy several options of places to lay: her stroller, a bed on the table, and a basket next to the resident. I also loaded up her basket with toys. I did these things to maximize her comfort. The next part of my strategy was to provide each visitor with a dish of treats so that Rainy would view strangers positively. Finally, because Rainy had shrunk back from a man in a wheelchair during our last visit, I initially held Rainy to reassure her but then gave the man a tube of squeezable food. As soon as Rainy smelled it she sniffed his hands and purred. Finally, I explained to each resident that we would respect Rainy’s choice of where to be, whether it was on their lap, in her stroller, or elsewhere. Being curious, Rainy ultimately did explore the table, basket, and even the laps of residents. When she got into people’s laps, I praised her and stayed attuned to her reactions. At the first sign that she felt discomfort, I offered her a break. During that time, I invited her to do tricks with me or simply let her chill out in her stroller.

About nine months ago, I decided to post timely updates about my training with Rainy. I knew this was a risk. We were inevitably going to make mistakes and those less-than-successful moments would be in print for anyone to read. But I also believed that sharing our ups and downs, and what we learned from them, would benefit others. Some might learn from our mistakes, while others might take comfort in knowing that pet training doesn’t require perfection. Stay tuned for future updates and email me at allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom if pet therapy interests you.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

2018-train-for-rewards-butt

Graphic novels have grown in popularity over the past decade. In some libraries, the hottest children’s books are often graphic novels. Here are three graphic novel recommendations for different ages groups.

The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard features a young boy who finds himself whisked back to the 16th century England while exploring an abandoned theater. He emerges on the stage of the Globe Theatre in the middle of a performance, much to the chagrin of William Shakespeare himself. A chase erupts, wherein the young boy frees and then befriends both a caged bear and an imprisoned baron. Kids and their parents will want to study the detailed illustrations to get the most out of this wordless paneled graphic novel.

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, the first title in the Lunch Lady series, introduces an uncover hero who assumes the guise of a lunch lady. A group of school friends who call themselves the Breakfast Bunch take a stand against bullies, agonize over what clubs to join, laugh at each other’s food choices, and debate who should win Teacher of the Year award. One day they follow the Lunch Lady home to see what she does when not serving meals. This leads to them teaming up with the Lunch Lady, her sidekick, and their crime-fighting gadgets against a suspicious substitute teacher. Mayhem abounds in this fast-paced madcap adventure, which has been a hit with both boys and girls.

For older readers comes the autobiographical novel called Smile. It tells of Raina who just wants to be a normal sixth-grader, but one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, damaging her two front teeth. This seemingly simple incident leads to years of agonizing over braces, headgear, surgery, and even a retainer with fake teeth. As if all this wasn’t already enough, Raina must maneuver her way through the confusion of changing friendships, dating, and self-identity. Although Smile takes place in the 1980’s, it still feels fresh. Anyone who has experienced the pain of dental work and adolescent angst will relate. Just as important, the novel will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to find their creative voice.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

Mariana Weber is so passionate about global warming that she used to regularly write letters to the president. Then she realized that his replies were all the same and that a co-worker had probably drafted a form letter for such requests as hers. Undeterred, Mariana decided to both form an organization for environmental protection and to write a book. For the latter, she enlisted her illustrator friend Joanna Whysner, whose colorful drawings add to the charm of The Global Warming Express.

Through an easy-to-read fantasy, Weber entertains while also making a plea for change. Earth is in peril. Several animals and two young people decide to join forces. They ride a magical train to the White House, where they hope their cry will be heard by the president.

The adventure begins in Antarctica, where an emperor penguin named The Fluff has just lost his mom, who died after swallowing a piece of plastic from the ocean. The girls also meet other animals whose stories engage while also drawing upon sympathies: a harp seal named Creamy who almost drowned when the ice she called home melted before she could learn to swim, a bear named Tomas and a salamander named Sally whose homes have been destroyed by fires caused by drought, a polar bear named Flora who found herself separated from her parents due to melting ice, a mountain goat named Edgar who has nowhere left to migrate, a caribou named Lauren who has no place to call home due to the destruction of muskeg, a duck named Zolo whose feathers have been permanently damaged by oil, a fish named Bobbi Sue whose aquatic home is toxic, and a rat named Zingo whose home is being destroyed by hurricanes that have become increasingly severe. One would be hard-pressed to read the tales of all these animals and not be stirred to action.

Weber has done her research. In her introduction, she explains why the Earth is heating up and why we need to slow down the effects. Through a parrot named Inoah, she teaches reading about multiple issues related to global warming such as the burning of fossil fuels, drilling of natural preserves, releasing of carbon monoxide into the air, and dumping of oils. And, on her resources page, Weber provides multiple links to articles and websites related to climate change. Anyone who is stirred to action by The Global Warming Express will have obvious reasons and solutions.

The Global Warming Express isn’t simply a cautionary tale. It’s also a fun story of a cross-country adventure where several animals and two young people visit unfamiliar places and face dangers such as fires and hurricanes. One minor complaint is I’m not sure why the train takes them into Canada, given that their mission is to plead with the United States president to pass environmental protection laws. While on this ride, the train becomes a character too. If the passengers are sad it slows down and even stops, but if the passengers are happy it speeds up.

In addition to writing a book, Weber started The Global Warming Express program. Its website explains global warming, tells how adults can help, and provides updates on small and big goals that young people in the group have made towards climate change.

This winter I asked parents to share the titles of their children’s favorite books. Below are three. To share your own recommendations, post in the comments of email me at: allisonsbookbag@outlook.com

Munch! by Matthew Van Fleet is a colorful board book with tabs and textures that animate a cast of frolicking critters who show your kids that mouths are for more than eating food. The animals use their mouths to laugh, hiccup, smile, pout, and so much more. My favorite interactive tab is the one that makes the busy beaver chew his tree branch! Said one mother, “The book is sturdy, the text is easy to add fun vocal inflections to, and the illustrations hold the interest of babies with short attention spans.”

We’re Going on A Book Hunt is a picture book about bears that teaches kids how to select just the right book. The way to start reading a book and raise a finger for each word you don’t know. If you get to all five fingers raised, it means the book is too hard. Author Pat Miller also teaches readers to be considerate library users. Her enthusiastic bears arrive quietly, use shelf markers, turn pages carefully, and remember to return their borrowed books. Young readers will be engaged by Miller’s catchy verse, which she modeled after the popular action rhyme “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”. About this writing, one mom wrote: “The rhythm is the best and you can change your voice to reflect the moods!

The Kingdom of Wrenly is a fantasy chapter book series by Jordan Quinn with easy-to-read text and with illustrations on almost every page. In the first book, The Lost Stone, Prince Lucas is lonely and wishes for a friend, but his parents forbid him to play with other children in the kingdom. When Lucas returns home after running away and hiding out in a village school, his parents relent and allow him to play with Clara Gills, the daughter of a seamstress for the royal family. Lucas and Clara get the chance to explore other lands when they team up to find his mother’s missing emerald pendant. Said one mother, “This is a good beginning chapter book series that my girls love to read on their own.”

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

From the ravaged tiny Polynesian island of Vaitea arises a hero and heroine for our times. Based on his ten years of Easter Island research, Edward Stanton has written an inspiring adventure about a brother and sister, their island, and how they saved it. In Wide as the Wind, Miru and Renga face tough choices and much hardship when they set sail to a distant island to find the seeds and shoots of trees that could reforest their homeland. Their return to Vaitea reaps romance and additional challenges in this teen historical novel.

Adventure is at the forefront of this tightly-written novel. Prior to embarking on their journey, Miru and Renga learn the sailor’s craft. Their grandfather teaches them to weave sails of pounded bark, cut full-sized paddles, make nets of mulberry cloth, and fashion birdbone hooks. He also teaches them to coast the island in a longboat, navigate by the sun, moon, and stars, recognize winds, currents, and constellations, and to fish. After recruiting a third crewman, the brother and sister duo set sail. On their journey, they brave the elements. The wind gusts. The sea roars. Supplies are washed overboard. The sun burns, parching their throats. They encounter sharks and their third crewman is attacked. Miru, Renga, and their third crewsman sail fifty-two days before finding land, and this is just the beginning of their adventure.

At the heart of Wide as the Wind also lies a theme. Years of tribal wars have devastated Vaitea. Tribes people who survived are now facing starvation. To save them, Miru must personally sacrifice romantic love, suffer injury and loss, and even risk his life. Even when they return from their journey to a distant island with the seeds and shoots of trees necessary to reforest their homeland, the tribal wars threaten to continue. Although some historical accounts suggest that extinction of natural resources of the real-life Easter Island inhabitants started long before internal conflicts, the latter certainly didn’t help. In basing his story on a real place, Stanton has crafted a parable that shows how mankind’s violence can lead to environmental destruction and even the end of a world.

Wide as the Wind has many other positives. The characters are realistic. Miru and Renga are likeable teens to which every reader can relate. Miru disagrees with his father’s choices, enjoys swimming with dolphins, and sneaks away to spend time with his girlfriend. The descriptions are vivid; the diction is strong. Here’s just one phrase for example: “He sat down with them on paving stones that glittered with brine and fish scales….” There are even moments of humor. One of the funniest is when birds poop on Miru’s head, just after he’s received the call to save his people. My one complaint is that I felt at times the action moved too fast and kept me at an emotional distance from the characters.

Author Edward Stanton has written eleven books. His fiction, poems, and essays have appeared in publications across the world. He is a professor of literature, and has won grants for his travel, research, and writing. Wide as the Wind is a worthy addition to his literary accomplishments. It has won the 2017 silver Moonbeam Award for Young Adult Fiction and the 2018 silver Feathered Quill Award for Teen Fiction.

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2018

I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.

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