Monday, February 17, 2014

TTouch at Bideawee: Calvin - Quiet Moments of Connection with a Shy Kitten

Calvin is an adorable, charming eight month old kitty at Bideawee.  He is very playful, and one can tell that he is interested in contact.  If you sit in the room with him, he will slowly come closer.  But he is fearful of a person reaching towards him, and will generally run away.  He is not aggressive in the least - he will move away, not lash out.

I initially worked with him when he was in a cage.  I used a paintbrush, and Kerrie McKeon (one of the main keepers of the cats at Bideawee, who I initially met during TTouch training) and I both found that Calvin responded to little TTouches on his head.  He also liked treats, so that was helpful to lure him forward as well.

Soon afterwards, he was put in the kitten room, so I began to work with him in that setting. 

Initially I tried playing with him with a string toy, then stroking him with the wand of the toy.  This was a little helpful but it also seemed he was a bit fearful of the wand.  I felt he wanted to be touched with something softer.  But something different than a paintbrush.

I sat quietly and did some TTouch with another kitten in the room for a few minutes, and gave Calvin a chance to settle in a safe place underneath a little platform.  He was watching me all the while. 

I slowly moved towards him, and held out a soft little toy towards him.  He rubbed his face against it, so I stroked the side of his face with it, and did some circular TTouches there as well.  I then paused, to see what would happen next. 

His body language told me he was a bit more comfortable.  He was blinking at me, and lying in a more comfortable position.  I repeated what I had done, and this time, after doing TTouches with the toy, I used the back of my finger to do a few of the circular TTouches and strokes along the outside of his mouth. I could feel him lean into it a bit.  I did this a very short time, as I didn't want him to get suddenly scared.

So after giving him a few minutes, he moved to another place in the room where he seemed to feel safe, again a bit underneath something, but not hidden.  I repeated what I had done before, very quietly speaking to him, and again, he began to very gently push into my hand.

The next time I worked with him, we did this same process again, and he is getting more comfortable with it.  I know that this may sound like a very small step, but it is a very big step for him, and I think it is so important to work in these increments so that at any given point the animal continues to feel safe, instead of being overwhelmed and scared.  And progress will actually be quicker if the animal is not pushed too much so that it continues to get scared. 

Each time I work with him, I give him a chance to get into a comfortable position, and then quietly approach him there.  And I make sure to pause frequently, either sitting quietly with him or playing with one of the other kittens to give him a break. 

Another advantage to playing with or TTouching one of the other kittens in the enclosure is that he will see me having a positive interaction with the other kitten, and that gives him more confidence as well.   He often starts moving towards us when I am working with or playing with another kitten.

Over time, with this gradual process, the animal learns that it can trust, and that it will be treated gently, and listened to. And one of the next delightful steps is that the animal then begins to approach you, seeking connection.

Look forward to seeing you soon, Calvin! xo

Friday, February 14, 2014

TTouch and Reiki at Bideawee: Pixie

Pixie is a beautiful young tabby girl with a lot of charisma.  She is very friendly, and is completely at ease especially with her favorite Bideawee person, Steve, and probably with others with whom she is very accustomed.  However, she can get overstimulated at times and swat, especially when someone new, such as a potential adopter, tries to make contact with her.  So I have been working with her to help encourage her to stay in a calmer zone when she is being touched. 
I have found that with cats who have this type of behavior, if you get them accustomed to having contact that does not get them to the point where they swat, over time the swatting behavior subsides.  It is so beautiful to see that process, especially in a shelter, because it not only means that the animal feels better, it also increases her chances for adoption.

First of all, what I have seen is that Pixie needs a few moments to just get used to the person being near her, rather than the person quickly sticking their hand at her to pet her.  I can understand that!
When it is Pixie's turn to be let out of her cage, I have found that it is best to leave her alone and let her explore for a while, and then when she decides to settle somewhere, I begin to do TTouches and/or Reiki with her.  And if I am working with her in the cage, I approach her gradually - standing near her cage calmly for a moment, then speaking to her a bit, approaching her a little bit at a time with a paintbrush, then gradually doing TTouches with my hand.  I actually do the same process when she is out of the cage, but adding on the part of letting her explore for a bit before approaching her.
I first saw that Pixie really responded to the energy of both TTouch and Reiki when I was actually working with another cat, Coral.  Coral was outside the cage and Pixie was in her cage, which happened to be next to where I was. 
As Coral began to calm with the work I was doing, I noticed Pixie changing from a hyper-alert look to a very mellow, relaxed look, her eyes closing.
With different cats I use different tools - I have a number of different types of paintbrushes, back scratchers, feathers, etc.  Pixie seemed like she would respond to a paintbrush, one that is not too thick, so that is what I have used with her.  I start out doing little circular TTouches around the outside of her mouth, the top of her head, and over time, have added TTouches and strokes on her body as well. 

In the beginning, I would do just a few TTouches, pause, observe her behavior, and then continue, a little at a time.  Over time, she has been comfortable with longer and longer periods of contact, leaning into the brush, rolling on her side, etc, really relaxing into it.  Only maybe once has she swatted at me, and when that happened, I gave her a break, worked with another cat or two, then came back to her later.
With this type of work, Pixie has become more and more accustomed to responding to touch by relaxing rather than striking out, as long as the approach is gentle.  It is so important to watch a cat's body language and listen to what they are ready to do, rather than imposing our will on them.  In this way, a cat does not feel cornered.
When things are really working well, it is a pure energy flow that goes back and forth between me and the cat.  Being in the moment with them, feeling where they are.
After Pixie became accustomed to me working with her with the paintbrush, I was able to start working my hand down the paintbrush and have begun doing TTouches with her directly with my hand.  I do keep my hand on the paintbrush, or keep it nearby, in case I need to transition back to the paintbrush.  It really is like a dance.  The minute I feel Pixie may get a bit unsure, I go back to using the paintbrush and then may give her a break altogether for a bit.  I am constantly watching her body language, with the idea of stopping BEFORE it is too much.  So I am watching and feeling for any subtle signs of agitation.  After a while it gets easier to anticipate those moments because I get used to her rhythm.  Even when I am doing what I think may be strictly TTouch with her, Reiki is definitely flowing, so we have a connection in that energetic way as well.

Each time I work with Pixie, it feels like the positive energy coming from her is building and building, and I know that others can see it and feel it too.  Usually when this type of momentum gets going, I feel that sometime in the near future, it will be her time, time for the right person or people to arrive to take her to her forever home. 
See you soon Pixie, unless you go home first!
As always, I have to thank all at Bideawee for all the love and care they give to the animals.  xo

Monday, February 3, 2014

TTouch and Reiki at BARC Shelter: Cody

Cody has been at BARC Shelter a very long time, he is one of the animals who lives there, running loose in the cat loft, and he is very well-loved.  He is an older cat, and has been through a lot during his life – he lost an eye and had his ear mangled by a pit bull, and now in his advanced age he has kidney issues.  But he is a trooper, and a character – he definitely has a humorous side to him.  If he is resting on top of a cage, he may want to use your shoulders to help him to get down!

He is a rather quiet, yet powerful presence - a kind overseer. 

I have been spending more time with him lately, as I feel that Reiki is so helpful for cats with kidney problems.  And of course, I feel a great deal of love for this dear pirate cat (that’s how he feels to me, a weathered pirate with a sense of humor).  He is a very loving cat, and readily will come onto your lap.

Cody often rests on top of a table, where I will sit with him for Reiki, or if he's in the mood to come in my lap, we do that.  Sometimes my hands are directly on him, sometimes not, whatever feels right.  Often my hands are slightly off him as the energy feels too powerful to have direct connection.


It feels such an honor to connect and work with any animal, but it is a special type of honor to connect with a cat who has had many years of existence, and you feel in the energy connection with them something about all that experience.  It is not possible to put it into words, but it feels like tapping into a quiet wisdom that exists inside of the cat.  I feel the years of that experience somehow traveling into me, not in specific thoughts but somehow energetically.  The energy passes back and forth between us. 

I treasure these moments, and am grateful, too, for all the love and care that Cody and all the other animals receive from those at BARC.  It is a special place!! xo

Sunday, February 2, 2014

TTouch and Reiki at Bideawee: Teddy and Panda, Ebony and Ingrid

Above:  Teddy
Hi folks! It has been very hard to keep up with the blog posts as life has been busy! 

This post is a bit belated, as it is more complex, involving four cats instead of just one.  It is actually about the first four cats I really focused on at Bideawee.

The end of last year, I taught several TTouch workshops to volunteers at Bideawee in Manhattan.  It is a great place - very positive environment, well set up, well-run, and staffed by knowledgeable and caring people. 

Bideawee has a terrific setup for the cats.  A good number of cats are housed in what they call “resorts” – small rooms where the cats can roam, play, sleep, etc that are filled with toys, climbing places and cozy places.  They make really good use of the vertical space with shelves and cat trees etc.  The cats that are in cages have clean, cozy cages and most of these cats have opportunities to be out of the cages on a rotating basis to play or just hang out.

The cats I will discuss here are Teddy, Panda, Ebony and Ingrid, who were housed together in one of the resorts. 

Above:  Panda

Teddy and Panda are two adorable young brothers who came into the shelter completely feral.  They both have very gentle, sweet, playful personalities but were still quite shy when I first began to work with them.  Panda was more forthcoming than Teddy when I began working with them, but apparently they had switched back and forth as to which one was less or more shy.
Ebony and Ingrid are both friendly girls, but when I first started working with them had a rather low tolerance level for touch, and could get swatty after a short while.
I entered the resort with these four cats with a couple of different paintbrushes, not sure of what would happen but excited to work with the cats. 

One thing that I found nice about being in the room with the four cats was that it was great to be able to alternate between the four cats, thus giving them the break time that they needed, especially in the beginning when they were getting to know me, but it was also important later on to really be in the moment with them and feel at any given time whether it was best to continue, or to give a break and come back in a while.  Sometimes I would literally do just a few TTouches, other times it would work into a longer session, depending on how they were reacting to me. 

Above: Panda

Panda was in a cozy spot curled up on a cat bed.  I first began to TTouch him using the paintbrush, as I didn’t want to startle him by touching him directly with my hand too fast.  At first he seemed hesitant, but pretty quickly he settled into some TTouches with the paintbrush, and then with the back of my fingers on his forehead. 

Above:  Teddy

His brother Teddy was more standoffish, but I found that he was comfortable when he got on a little perch and was facing out the window.  While he was there, I began to do some Reiki with him, and he was quite comfortable with that, so I was gradually able to move my hand til I had it near his lower back.  I kept it there, sending the energy for a while, and then did some TTouches with him there as well.  As long as he was facing away from me, he was ok with that.  I have found that sometimes when an animal is sensitive to being touched in an area such as the lower back, it is helpful to share Reiki in that area first, and later on they may be accepting of direct contact there.

Above:  Ingrid
I was told that Ingrid generally would only allow one or two pets and then would swat.  Kerrie McKeon (one of the main keepers of the kitties at bideawee and cat expert extraodinaire.  Check out her website, said it seemed like someone played with her using their hands as toys, and that made a lot of sense.  I did a few TTouches with the back of my finger, actually the flat part of the fingernail, on her forehead, and she rubbed into it.  I did a little at a time with her, giving pauses, and by the second time visiting there was able to do a longer period of time with her.

Above:  Ebony

Ebony is also very sweet, but as she could be a swatter, I used the paintbrush first.  She started pushing her head into the TTouches with the paintbrush, so after a bit I transitioned to using the back of my hand, mostly around the top of her head, alongside her cheeks and outside the mouth.  The next week when I worked with her I was delighted to see that there was no hint of swatting anymore when I was working with her, and she also began to come into my lap.  So I didn’t use the paintbrush anymore with her.  From then on, she was extremely friendly with me and didn’t swat.  I was careful, though to watch her body language, and if I was approaching her, I would use the back surface of a finger on her head, to see how she was, and if she wanted to continue, I would.  Otherwise I would let her be, and usually just let her come to me, which she does readily, usually sitting in my lap for a bit. 
With a cat who has a tendency to swat, less is definitely more, and the goal is to stop before they swat, so they get used to the pleasant experience which ends comfortably for them and for you.
Ingrid similarly didn’t try to swat at me, so in subsequent sessions I would start carefully with the back of my finger with TTouches on her head area, and take it from there. 

So, going back to the second session, Panda started walking around my legs and feet while I was working with Ebony, so I switched back to working with him again.  He went again on his cat bed and ended up getting very sleepy as I did little circular ttouches on his head with the back of my fingers.  In subsequent sessions, usually it would be both him and Ebony that came to me first, sometimes pawing each other a bit to try to be first to get attention. 

I would sit on a bench in the resort and with Panda, I would pat the bench, and he started a whole routine of jumping up there when I patted there. I would do TTouches with him by my side, and a few sessions later, began to lift him from the bench to my lap.  I didn’t force him to stay, but just did a few TTouches with him there and let him jump down whenever he wanted to.  Ebony would follow a similar process except that she would come up in my lap on her own.  More and more of her very endearing personality comes out every time I see her.

With Teddy, I progressed in a very gradual, non-forceful way.  Initially, he was most comfortable being approached when he was sitting facing out the window.  But as time went by, he was very at ease being approached pretty much any place he was in the room – sometimes settling for a few moments, sometimes longer.
And as this progress continued, I was so delighted to hear from the dedicated staff and volunteers who work with the cats that they too were seeing a big change in all four cats in the resort, particularly with Teddy and Panda, as they had still been quite shy when I began working with them. 

One day when I came in, I was told that Teddy was now comfortable being picked up and held, which was monumental!
These two sweet brothers remind me a great deal of my own feral cats, Natalia and Lulu.  Very sweet, gentle souls underneath their fear.  This type of personality really blossoms once the fear begins to subside and trust builds.  TTouch and Reiki are such gentle ways of connecting with animals – they help to teach the animal that you are there for them, that they are welcome to accept as much or as little contact as they choose, that you are with them in this moment to share the energy and the gentle touches with them.  

So, the most lovely conclusion to this post is that when I arrived at Bideawee this week, I was told that Teddy and Panda had been adopted by a lovely couple.  My heart felt so happy for them that it brought a tear to my eye!  Especially when animals with whom I have experienced a big shift are adopted, it is like seeing your star pupils graduate.  I can just imagine them delightedly frolicking in their new home :)
Thank you for all those at bideawee who make it such a special place and help animals like these to find the loving home they so much deserve.