Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Adventures of Emmylou and Natalia: The Journey Continues...

Emmylou (right) and Natalia (left) are my two cats who were brought into BARC shelter as ferals, and I adopted them last July.  Our journey together has been and continues to be such and interesting and beautiful one.  We are continuing to learn from each other every day.

In general, they are doing great and they have come such a long way since I brought them home in July.  They are now very at ease in the apartment, and with me, and are recently have been breaking though to a greater comfort level with my partner (they have been comfortable with him in general for quite a while, but now are much more at ease with receiving pets and some TTouch from him). 

I feel that I have broken through to another level with them recently as well in terms of contact.  Every day they approach me more often for affection, which is so sweet!  When I get up in the night to use the bathroom, Natalia will wait outside and I sit on the floor with her for a while for TTouch.  And during the day they both approach me, sometimes taking turns (one will be sitting looking out the window in the cat tree while the other comes into the living room for attention. 

They adore each other and, though they may hang out separately at different times of the day, at night they are cuddled together on the couch, looking like a yin/yang symbol together.

I have continued to find that keeping a routine is very important to their comfort level - keeping the feeding times as consistent as I can, having certain times of the day for play, etc.  It is great to have a play session with them right before we go to sleep, and then they most often settle in to sleep when we do.

It is good, also, to have variety within the routine - rotating which toys are used, trying some different TTouches with them, etc., to keep things interesting for them.  Even something as simple as creating a couple of tunnels with shopping bags with the bottom cut out can be a new fun game for them.

I am always working towards little goals with them, as well.  Mostly these have to do with more practical matters.  For example, it is good to be able to pick them up, so when it comes time to need to get them into a carrier (which hopefully will not be soon!), it is not a shock for them.  Getting them used to having their paws touched (eventually for nail-clipping) will be another one.

It has really worked out well to do everything with them at a very gradual, slow pace.  If I do something and it feels like I went a bit too fast to that step, I take a step back and break it down a little further.

Emmylou is actually a bit more skittish in some ways, but for some reason she seemed to be ready for the picking-up activity sooner.  I started out by first getting her used to being touched on her stomach, doing a few circular TTouches on her stomach at a time, then letting it go, just doing this for a few seconds here and there, at regular intervals.  I actually started doing this with her when they were in the cage and we regularly fed them baby food (always all-meat baby food, no onions, Gerber or Beech-nut) off our fingers.  First we let them eat the food without trying to touch them while they were eating, then started stroking them or doing a few TTouches while they were eating, and then having more and more contact and touch while they were licking the food off.  Natalia was more reticent about being touched while she was eating, so we went more slowly with her.  Emmylou loves the food so much that she was more ok with being touched, so I started doing little TTouches on her belly, and then sometimes a little circle and then a lift on her belly, then sometimes lifting her slightly off the ground.  When they started being out of the cage, when she was walking, I would do little TTouches and then sometimes a belly lift (both hands under belly, eventually lifting her up slightly off the floor.  When I put her back on the floor, I praised her and did hair slides and circular TTouches to make her feel comfortable, so the lifting became just a little part of this whole activity.  Eventually I started lifting her higher and higher - just for a couple of seconds each time, then put her down and TTouch etc.  Now I am at the point with her where I can pick her all the way up to waist-height, do a few pets, then put her down.  This has taken place over months, so it has been very gradual indeed!

Natalia, while she really responds to being touched, easily gets scared if she feels she is being cornered or contained, so I have had to go slower with her.  For a while, I did circular TTouches on the side of her belly.  Then I gradually was able to do some TTouches under her belly.  Then, when she was in a lying-down position, I was able to do TTouch belly lifts with her, just one or two at a time.  In that case, by belly-lift I mean just gently putting a hand under her belly, making the slightest movement upward, holding for a minute, then slloowly releasing.  See my clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRDUdMh49CE&list=UUwClW-vMPW6i_UFDkXXayEA&index=32.  Just last week, while she was walking, I was able to put my hand behind her front legs, just gently lift her chest and front legs for a moment, then gently put back down, give lots of praise and TTouch, etc.  When I tried to put both hands underneath her and lift all four feet off the ground, this still made her nervous, so I backed off of that and went back to doing TTouches and lifts on her belly area.

The day before yesterday, I decided to try lifting Natalia up a few inches off the ground again.  To my surprise, she didn't react at all to this.  When I do these lifts, I get ready by doing some zigzags and circles on her while she are walking (I am walking behind, leaning over).  Then I just put both hands underneath her belly, lifted her off the ground a few inches, just for a second, then put her down - immediately praising her and starting to do TTouches and strokes with her.  I think I have to film this at some point to be a bit more clear about it!  Anyway, she was not startled at all - went right with the flow of what I was doing and laid down for some TTouches.  I gave her a break for a few moments and then repeated the same procedure, and the second time the same thing happened - which was great ! I think I did try a third time as well.  After that, and a few TTouches, I backed off to see what she would do and she just went over by the radiator, one of her cozy places, and was staring at me, purring!! 

Yesterday I tried this again with her, and again, she was completely comfortable, as if the lifting up is part of the whole TTouch and affection process.  So, little by little, I will be able to lift her up a little higher.  So important to always be patient and listen to what they are ready to do.

If anyone reading this has further questions, please always feel free to contact me through my website, http://healingenergyforanimals.com.

Thanks Emmylou and Natalia, for being the lovely beings that you are - you are teaching me so much and filling my life with so much richness and joy. xo

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jonesy: Small Steps are Big Steps

Jonesy is a beautiful, soulful dog who is extremely fearful.  Underneath his fear is an affectionate, sweet, and truly loving being. 
Jonesy's people, Kate and Griffin, adopted him about a year and a half ago (he is now 2) from the ASPCA upstate - he had come from a shelter down south. 
New York City is an extremely stressful environment for any animal or human, but with a dog who is as sensitive and fearful as Jonesy is, it is absolutely terrifying to walk on the streets.  Looking at it from his point of view, everywhere you turn is another unfamiliar sound or sight and it all seems very threatening and hostile.  Jonesy is comfortable when he is at his people's place upstate, but trying to walk him in NYC is very difficult for him and for his people.  Jonesy is so scared that he shakes and just wants to turn around and go back home.  He is not aggressive at all, he just wants to get away from whatever is scaring him.
Jonesy's people have been doing whatever they can to help him feel comfortable and safe, given the situation, and I started working with Jonesy last week. 
In our first appointment, I wanted to really come in with a neutral attitude, and let Jonesy know that I am there to help him.  Before I entered the apartment, I made sure to quiet my energy.  When I entered the apartment, I lowered my body position, kneeling on the floor sideways to where he was.  I told him in a quiet voice that I was there to help him, and did not move towards him. 
Then we did a wonderful exercise, the "chair exercise", that was developed by one of my TTouch teachers, Kathy Cascade (http://sanedogtraining.com/), whose specialty is fearful, reactive dogs, and from whom I always get great advice.  Her techniques, in combination with the TTouches, are so helpful -- really life-changing -- for these dogs, as well as for their people.  And now she has an online course so you can learn from her no matter where you live.  Please have a look at her website to check this out.  And of course if you can take a class with her in person, do it!
So now to the "chair exercise".  I sat in a chair with a neutral attitude and very quiet energy.  Kate had Jonesy on a leash and harness and walked him up to me.  I dropped a treat on the ground for Jonesy, then she walked him away again.  We did this a couple of times, and Jonesy was comfortable enough to take the treat from my hand, so we did that a few times.  Each time she walked him away again after he got the treat, so it is a brief event and he knows he is not being forced to stay there, that he gets to go away again.  After a couple of times of him taking the treat from my hand, he was more at ease, so I did a few TTouches with the back of my hand on his back around his shoulder area.  As touching him was a new thing, I just did the few TTouches and then she walked him away again. 
Then I gave him a break, and showed Kate a number of TTouches on a small stuffed dog sothat she will be able to do them on him.  Then I had her do a few of the TTouches on Jonesy.  I explained to her that it is very beneficial to take a few deep breaths and calm ourselves before starting to work on the animal, as the animal will pick up on our energy.
Kate picked up the TTouches very well, and Jonesy's body began to relax almost immediately.  After that, since Jonesy was more at ease, I was able to work with him a bit.  Then we gave him another break, and I showed Kate how to do a TTouch half wrap (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N83oXBZy0KM&list=UUwClW-vMPW6i_UFDkXXayEA&index=33 for demo).  When Kate called to Jonesy so we could do the wrap, he came right to where we were and came towards me as if for more TTouch.  So I did a bit more on him.  I really did just a few TTouches at a time, but each time after a break he seemed ready for more. He was a little nervous at first with the wrap on but it did seem to take him down a notch after a few minutes.  He went to lay down with it on while we talked some more.  Even though I had only worked with him a little bit at a time, I could tell he was tired and it was time to stop with him.   
I do Reiki with people as well as animals, and I offer "combo sessions" in which I do a Touch/Reiki session with the animal, followed by a Reiki session for the person.  This works out well because most people who call me are very stressed about what their pets are experiencing.  Relating to that, one of the nice things about doing TTouch is that it not only relaxes the pet but the person doing the TTouches as well! 
Part two of this session was a Reiki session with Kate.  And since Reiki not only treats the person I am treating but affects the atmostphere of the whole household, this turned out to be relaxing for both Kate and Jonesy.  Jonesy came much closer to where we were during the course of the session and curled up for a nap.
Today was our second session.  Kate told me that she had already seen subtle changes in Jonesy's behavior in general, that he was starting to get a bit better outside, and that overall he seemed to be calmer.  She said that he was getting used to her routine with him with the TTouches, and that he would come to the spot where they do them with anticipation.  So this is great progress.
I advised her (after speaking to Kathy Cascade) that in addition to taking him out for the usual walks, she should take him out for short periods of time (literally just a few minutes), just to let him stand there, have a treat, then go back inside.  Similar concept to the chair exercise, in that it helps the dog to feel that he is always going to be able to go back to where he is comfortable.
Today after giving Jonesy a few treats to get him a bit more at ease being near me, I showed Kate a few more TTouches to try with Jonesy.  One of them is the Zigzag TTouch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF-0QNCw8GM&list=UUwClW-vMPW6i_UFDkXXayEA&index=31).  This is a great TTouch for helping the animal to feel connection from the front of the body to the back of the body, and to help bring a scared animal back into its body.   I did this very slowly and with a very light touch.  Though his mind seemed to be processing it, he was a bit concerned, perhaps as this was a new feeling, and as he began to yawn a few times, I did only a couple of times and then gave him a break for treats. 
He seemed more comfortable around me in general though today.  And I found that giving him frequent breaks so he could process what I just did was a good strategy, as each time he seemed more comfortable with me trying something else. And he kept coming to me, as if to see what was going to happen next. 
on Jones, which did seem to help calm him.  The belly lifts can help the digestive system, as well as helping to relax the abdominal muscles so that the animal is breathing more fully.  So with a very nervous dog, these can be very beneficial.
At some point while I was doing the TTouches with him, Jonesy even gave me a kiss today, awww!!  That touched my heart so much, and it was a joy in general to see his demeanor so much calmer and at ease around me than in the first session.
Next we tried a different harness, the Freedom Harness, which is very well-made, and also comes with a double-ended leash which can be connected to the back of the harness as well as the front, so that there can be two points of contact, which is a much more balanced way to walk the dog.  The person walking the dog walks to the side of the dog, holding the leash in both hands.
The next step we did was walking through a labyrinth, which is part of the TTouch training.  It helps a dog to develop focus.  I put together a simple labyrinth which I made from six dowels, in the following configuration:

I had Kate walk Jonesy towards the labyrinth, but he was frightened and did not want to go in.
At this point I knew we had to give him a break and then think of what to do next.  We let him sit down, gave him some treats and I did some TTouches with him.
Then what I did was dismantle the labyrinth and configure what looked like a narrow path, using four of the dowels (two on each side of the path). as in the following:

Though Jonesy was still somewhat reluctant to go through the path, he did go through once, lured with treats.  Then we stopped for a minute, and went back the other way, again lured with treats and stopping on the other side.  Then she was able to walk him all the way through the path more easily, giving a treat at the end, then back the same way.  It got easier each time.  We then gave him another break with TTouches and treats. 
Then I reconstructed the original labyrinth, to see if he would walk in.  This time, Kate was able to lead him into the labyrinth with no hesitation, which was wonderful to see.  At each turn in the labyrinth, I had her pause with him and give him a treat, so it wouldn't feel like too much at one time.  We did this several times, and each time Jonesy seemed more comfortable with it.  Amazing to see this whole transformation, from him being scared to enter the labyrinth to being very comfortable with it.  This whole section of the session with the labyrinth had only taken about fifteen minutes, yet so much had taken place.  Once again it brought home to me the concept that one needs to let the dog have a choice, and to break tasks down into smaller tasks if they are resistant to what you are asking them to try.
Again, we ended the session with a Reiki session for Kate, which left the apartment with a very calm atmosphere, and Jonesy was curled up and cozy on his bed.
Thank you Jonesy and Kate, it is such a pleasure to work with you and Jonesy, I am still feeling you giving me a kiss.  What an honor that was!  Look forward to seeing you soon, and to seeing what can happen next....

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Moment to Moment with Mrs. P and Mrs. Q

Mrs. P (above) and Mrs. Q (below) are two beautiful young cats who were feral or at least semi-feral, who had been rescued and brought into BARC Shelter at the same time.  Both cats were terrified upon first arriving at the shelter.  Mrs. Q was literally climbing the walls of her cage at first, whereas Mrs. P curled up in a ball at the back of her cage. 
With a cat who is new in the shelter, I most often approach them with a tool of some kind, to give them some space, and for the safety of both the animal and me, as I am often not sure how they will react to being touched.  I started with Mrs. P with a back scratcher, which has a long handle, which is especially helpful in this situation so that I didn't have to lean way into the cage, as she was all the way at the back. 
After a few TTouch circles and strokes with the scratcher, it was clear that she was not aggressive at all, just very frightened.  I worked with her a little at a time, giving her breaks, and soon worked my hand down the back scratcher to touch her with my hands.  I did some hair slides, which are very calming (see my youtube channel http://youtube.com/sarahsuricat for a demo of this), as well as some of the circular TTouches.  Pretty soon she started to stretch out her body and become more comfortable.
I knew that I would have to go much more slowly with Mrs. Q.  The picture above is actually after I had worked with her a few times.  Before even opening her cage. I went to the side of the cage and tried an approach which I used with one of my cats, Emmylou, when she first arrived at the shelter.  The idea is to be as gentle and non-threatening as possible, and to go slowly to determine what they are comfortable with at that given moment.
What I did was to speak to her very softly and I didn't even touch her quite yet.  I used a paintbrush and stroked the air about an inch or two parallel to where her whiskers are.  So it was as if I was stroking her whiskers, only I was slightly in front of them.  I just did this a few times and stopped. 
After I moved the paintbrush out of the cage, Mrs. Q got more relaxed, changing her body position to a much more relaxed position, lying down with her front paws tucked under her body.  I tried this a few more times, and little by little she became more relaxed with me. 
The next time I worked with her, I started out the same way, and also did something else I had done with Emmylou that had worked very well.  I stroked gently down the front of her front legs, and down her paws.  I know, one would not necessarily think this would be something a cat would like! But I have seen some very scared cats respond to this approach.  I know that in TTouch for horses, people stroke down the legs of the horse with wands to comfort them, so there must be something neurologically calming about this.
After working with Mrs. Q a few times just through the cage, sitting to the side of her cage, then I was able to open her cage and begin to do TTouch circles on her body with a paintbrush.  As you can see from the photo above, at first she was a bit startled by this, but eventually the TTouches began to calm her.  I did TTouch circles with the paintbrush down the sides of her body, and along the sides of her mouth.  Once in a while I did some TTouches on the top of her head as well, but not till a bit later on, as this was a scarier area for her to be touched.  Each time, she would be a little nervous at first, but then each time I worked with her, the nervous time has gotten shorter and she has settled into touch more quickly.

Now I still start out by using the paintbrush, but can usually progress quickly to TTouching her directly with my hand.  I most often will start with the TTouches using the back of my hand, as that is less intense than the front of the hand.  I have to go a little bit at a time though, as she still can be nervous about this.  At times she is completely receptive, but other times I may just hold my hand still to send Reiki energy very gently, then do some more TTouches.
Mrs Q has been more and more interested in play as time has gone on, as well.  Many of the volunteers can play with her, and she is responsive to that.  Mrs. P has started to play a bit as well.

Meanwhile, Mrs P (below) was becoming more responsive to touch as well.  I was doing TTouches over most of her body, on her head, and even sometimes on her paws.  As you can see by the photo below, she will most often relax on her side and in this picture, she was very receptive to very light little circular TTouches on her paws.  Again, this was a surprise to me that she would be comfortable with me touching her paws, but when she is in the mood, it seems to be very calming for her. 

Recently I started another element to my work with these cats:  treats!  As both cats are much more comfortable, but still often remain at the back of their cages, I have wanted to see what I could do to encourage them to come forward. 

I have used baby food as a tool in socializing my cats Emmylou and Natalia, and have often used it in the past for socializing kittens.  All-meat baby food with no onions is what works best.  Gerber turkey in turkey gravy is what I most often use - I was advised of this by Mike Phillips, who runs Urban Cat League and from whom I took a wonderful seminar on working with feral cats.  It helps the cat learn not to be afraid of human hands coming in their direction, and they learn to gently lick, rather than bite, fingers.  Don't try this if you are working with an aggressive cat, because you could very well be scratched or bitten!! But with a non-agressive, shy cat of any age, this can be a wonderful tool. 
Both of these cats were reluctant at first to take the baby food. 
With Mrs. P, I found that if I did TTouch circles around her mouth area, then offered her the food and continued doing TTouches under her chin and around her head, she would take the food and then, as she got more comfortable, I started to be able to encourage her to come further and further forward in the cage.  At that point, at first I just let her take the food. then after a couple of times, I approached her diagonally with my other hand, going right to her back instead of her head, so I wouldn't scare her, and she was very comfortable with me TTouching her as she tood the food.  So sweet to see her coming forward!
With Mrs Q, it was a matter of patience, waiting for her to take the food. as she just looked at it at first, not quite comfortable with my finger being near her mouth.  Then I just touched my finger gently to her mouth, so a bit of the baby food was on the outside of her mouth, and once she licked it, she realized that it tasted very good.  She still was a little nervous about me being that close to her, so I just did it a few times with her, and will start leading her forward sometime soon.
It is beautiful to see how much progress these two creatures have made in a very short time, especially considering how terrified they were upon first entering the shelter.  They remind me a bit of my own two cats, who were just a few months older than these two when they were brought in from outside.  I know I am learning at least as much from them as they are from me, and I feel honored to spend time with these special beings and that they feel comfortable enough to connect with me.  And of course thank you to BARC shelter for all they do for the animals,