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guinea pig white

Marshmallow had gone missing, and now we had a bit of a crisis. The Person had to shuttle the Zimbabweans into town for an event and wouldn’t be home for hours.  Her family was off camping and I was 20 minutes away by car. Marshmallow’s rescue was not imminent.  The Person put out a strawberry, Marshmallow’s favorite treat. Then she cried and took the Zimbabweans to town.

Later that day she called and I snatched up the phone, only to find we had both a missing pig and an strawberryuntouched strawberry.

Was he scared?  I took a look at the guinea pig.  He seemed more .  .  .  interested, than scared.  His Person said he’s never moved more than a few feet in his outdoor pen so this was big.  Looking at him I saw a pretty wide-eyed character.  Naive, even.

He wasn’t scared because he wasn’t a complex pig.  His oeuvre was more or less a range of happy to hungry then back again.

His Person had just a few more questions.  Could Marshmallow hear her calling him?  I looked at the pig. He could hear her, all right, but more to the point, was he interested?  As it turned out, he was not.  Could he see her?   Well sure, if he tried.  I had to tell his person, he could see you if he’d just turn around.  But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care.  

sun on leavesShe laughed, we hung up and she continued the search.

As the afternoon wore on I checked back in to find he’d moved; now he was amongst some leaves.  I saw a pretty, diffused light and rounded shapes all around.  He was sort of .  .  .  puttering.

The day went on.  It was stressful.  Food was left out but not eaten.  Boards were removed from the deck to no effect.

Eventually?  A few days had gone by and we kind of  .  .  .  gave up.   We agreed it wasn’t looking too good, although I admit to some confusion about the general, obvious serenity of the pig.  He just didn’t seem concerned.  This concerned me.

A day or so later the phone rang.  The pig!  Not on the phone–on the neighbor’s lawn!  She’d come outside to find a content, naive, perfectly happy guinea pig on her front lawn.  Eating grass.  She came to their door to ask, did the family have a guinea pig?   What luck, they did!

Marshmallow was retrieved and brought back into the bosom of the family.  Where I soon saw, he was feeling pretty proud of his big adventure.

guinea pig IIt was an improbable story.  The guinea pig had an outdoor pen in which he could take in the sights and sounds of the natural world, every now and then.  But one day his people forgot he was in the backyard and Marshmallow made a break for it.  I didn’t get the message until the next morning so I got on the phone, hoping in the interim the pig had been found.  No such luck.

Now, I’m not a fan of “Find the Pet”; animals are unreliable witnesses to their whereabouts and this was a special case; the pig could be anywhere but it wouldn’t be anywhere he’d been before.  It would be hard for the pig to put his whereabouts in context.  I told the Person this and we forged ahead anyway.

deckHe showed me a bluish environment with a lot of long, horizontal strips.  The underside of a deck.  He was just sitting there and I understood he was patiently waiting for someone to come get him.  There was no urgency and no fear.  It was sort of peaceful. Moving above the scene I asked to be shown whose yard he was in.  I was shown the yard to the west.

Western Neighbors had a dog and kids.  They appeared to be home, but no one answered the door.  Marshmallow’s Person peered over the fence and described to me a concrete slab.  It occurred to me the pig could be wrong.  I looked at him.  He was serene.  Okay, I thought, time to look elsewhere.  Did his Person have a wooden deck?  She did!  Well duh, I thought.  Duh.  Why wasn’t that my first question?

You know, she said, I have all these Zimbabweans .  .  . 

mbiraOf course you do, I said.  It’s not a sentence you hear everyday, but in Marshmallow’s person’s life I’ve learned to expect this sort of thing.  She took up the marimba years ago; as these things go she’d graduated to a handheld wooden thingus upon which one plucked a series of hammered metal tabs.  Naturally this led to month-long sponsorships in which musicians were imported from Mother Africa on a temporary basis.  They stayed at her home, taught classes, met their American counterparts and, as it turned out later, dismantled wooden decks.

MaTennisrshmallow’s Person. This was a woman who once offered me lunch during our children’s playdate.  At the time I didn’t know her well.  The girls were served asian dumplings with soy sauce and fruit salad.  For us?  She hauled out a mesclun salad with a fancy vinaigrette, an artisan baguette, and duck confit.  Duck confit.  A specialty of Gascony.  Duck legs cooked all day in their own fat.  When the Bordeaux came out I knew it was a different sort of playdate.  Because she’d attended the Cordon Bleu.  A school to which she’d applied on a whim, during Boyfriend’s relocation for work.

In her free time, the Person played tennis and hockey and did woodwork. The best part?  She didn’t scare me.

Next Up: Marshmallow and the Zimbabweans, part II.



Talk to the Kitty! part II

b & w kittyLaurie’s kitty was depressed.  Her life had changed dramatically.  To make things worse, one of her humans said disrespectful things about the cat, right in front of her.

Laurie doesn’t know what to do.  Talk to the kitty, I say.  Tell Kitty your husband is just talking.  And while you’re at it, I continue, you might tell him to knock it off.  It’s got her worried.     

Soon it becomes apparent that Laurie needs me to demonstrate.  So I start yapping.  Hey Kitty!  I say.  I notice you’re hiding a lot; you’re picking at yourself and you seem a little depressed.  

There’s more.  There’s so much going on in the house right now.  We moved into this new place but it wasn’t right for us.  All these strange guys are fixing it so it will work for our family.  They’ll be finished soon.  These things are stressful for a kitty!  No wonder you’re not yourself.  

And about my husband Arturo (this is totally a fake name): don’t listen to him.  Arturo says dumb things but he doesn’t mean them.  Besides, I love you and you’re my kitty.  This is your home and it will be for the rest of your life–no matter what. 

Fast forward one week:  Laurie comes into the work room and announces, “I talked to Kitty!”

mousieThe short version is this:  Almost immediately the cat hauled out her toys and began to play, something she hadn’t done in a long time.  She also promptly chucked up a hairball on Arturo’s sweater.

A week later she’s venturing out from under the bed, and her fur is filling in! Overall, Kitty is more cheerful and relaxed.  Arturo is totally skeptical but even he can’t deny, Kitty’s different.

Laurie?  She tells me she talks to Kitty all the time now.  She’s got the kids talking to the cat and last week, when Kitty spit up on something of Laurie’s, Arturo joked, “why don’t you talk to her?”

Laurie’s latest homework is to tell Kitty all the things she loves and admires about the cat.  You need to tell her why she’s so great, I say.  Everyone likes to be appreciated!  


Talk to the Kitty!


I’m at the elementary school, volunteering like I do. In the work room.  No kids. Just moms and dads, and teachers drifting in and out.

Laurie and I get to talking (names changed to protect the innocent).  She’s this great, easy, young mom at school. I learn her house is under a heavy remodel. She has a 16-year-old cat who licks herself bald and barfs a lot.

guy-1-1167030-mThe story goes on.  What with one thing and another I figure out that Mr. Laurie doesn’t like cats, and he doesn’t like barf.  I guess he stepped on one of Kitty’s many hairballs .  .  .  Yeah–so?  I stepped on a gall bladder one time, that used to belong to a mouse.  I was barefoot and hadn’t had my coffee.  Did it hurt me?  It did not.

He says lots of things like, “after the cat dies [fill in with how it’s going to be better“].  He says this in front of the cat.

How rude!

grinning dogNow, I get this.  Many people are not cat people.  There’s a level of Some Things Cannot Be Explained that cats require.  But a cat’s not going to come and ask for your appreciation, while slobbering and grinning.  The act of slobbering and grinning kind of sums up Dog, in my mind.  Who wanders around going, “wow, dogs sure are mysterious!”?  Yeah, no one.  But cats–they’re inscrutable, and some people need to scrute.

But back to our story.  Looking at Laurie’s predicament, I see a resistant husband, a recent move, a bunch of strange guys making dreadful noises and youngish children.  All roads led to licking and hiding under the bed.

These things have to be handled delicately.  So a few volunteer hours tick by and finally it’s time to say, “have you told the cat what’s going on?”  Laurie blinks. She doesn’t know what I mean.  I say to her, ” I mean, have you told the cat what’s going on?”

She says, “How do I do that?”

Next Up:  Talk to the Kitty! Part II







young-men-with-dogs-771203-mAt last Rosie had the right name.  Still, there were a few other things to discuss.

This woman had another dog that was close to her husband.  She’d wanted Rosie to be “her” dog and she was a little anxious about it.  Not only was the dog ignoring her person, she was also physically distant, aloof.

Well I told her, you’ve only had Rosie a month.  I recommended she talk to Rosie, let her know she could take her time and settle in.  You’ve got to give her room to be herself, I said.  You can’t really make her be something for you, I said. Just love her.  Give her time.  Something else occurred to me, though.

Say, I said to the client, don’t you foster dogs?   She did.  Not only did she foster them, but Rosie was a former foster who had proven too irresistible to send back to the pound.  They’d been looking for a companion for their aging border collie, Ray.  This was their choice.

I wondered, had they told Rosie they were keeping her?  That she was in her forever home?

The client seemed surprised.  She didn’t know if she’d said anything or not.  How do I tell her? she kept asking me.  That surprised me.

The kind of people who call me: I tend to assume they natter away at their pets like I do, but everyone has their own style.  Just say it! I told her.  Talk to her like you’d talk to your husband.  Rosie sat up very straight on the screen in my head.  She stared at me, as if she was looking for something.  So I told her.

pound-puppies-1145747-mRosie, I said, did you know Anne and David are planning on keeping you?  You don’t ever have to go back to the Humane Society!  I said. You don’t ever have to go back to the people who couldn’t see you.  This is your home now–

Rosie’s person interrupted me.  “Katie!” she said.  “She’s lying on her back, with all four legs in the air!”

I laughed.  Did she usually do that?  As it turned out, she didn’t.  The client had never seen it.  The dog was completely relaxed, her mouth slack and her eyes rolling back in her copper-colored head.

A few days later I got the big news: not only had Rosie begun to respond to her name, but right after we hung up she started to follow my client around.  She cuddled; she smiled.  Apparently, she was at peace.






red-dog-218510-mShe was a dear dog.  They were dear people.  Adopted at 12 years, she was a good fit for their family but there was just one thing: she didn’t respond to her name.  Ever.  They’d had her a month and wasn’t that long enough for her to get used to it?

In theory it might be but I only knew one way to find out what was going on, and that was to ask.

The pound had named her Rachel.

I introduced myself the day before our appointment.  Her picture revealed a slightly stocky, 40-pound, copper-colored dog of no determinate breed.  She had a kind face. Rachel.  It didn’t seem right; somehow it didn’t fit but was it just me?

The Dog-Who-Wouldn’t-Be-Rachel was matter-of-fact.  “That’s a person’s name,” she said flatly.  “I want the right name.”  Before I even talked to her person, I offered up a few names that weren’t so “person-y”.  Peanut was the winner, though Penny placed.  Betsy was coolly received.  I liked Ladybug but it made her eyebrows go up.  What was that about?

The client wanted to know what the dog’s name was before she went to the pound.  It turned out to be something like Emily, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  It didn’t matter; the dog waved it off.  In her former life she’d lived with a family that was perfectly nice.  She was well cared for as evidenced by her sparkling dental work, close-smile-127380-mbut they didn’t really “see” her.  She was a very specific character, thank you, and if it was all the same she wanted to be called something that fit who she was.  She told me the person at the pound hadn’t even stopped to look.  He just scrawled her name on a paper.

He’d had facial hair.  He was thinking about his plans for the evening.

Hm.  Rachel was out and Emily was out.  She wanted a name that fit, that wasn’t a person’s name.

We fell silent for a bit.

After awhile I asked the client, did she have any idea what she would call this dog, if she’d had no name at all?

The woman produced a name at once:  Rosie.  She went on to say the dog reminded her so much of her friend’s dog when she was a girl, a dog she’d loved very much.  I turned to the dog; would she like to be called Rosie?

This was the biggest hit of all; the dog beamed at me.  She wagged.  She wiggled.  “Rosie it is!” I said to the client.  “Go for it.”

Next Up:  Animal Communication Plays the Name Game, part II





True Love

Oh, Stanley . . .

laughing dogReturning clients needed a touch-up on their 5-ish lab mix.  Stanley.

I skimmed the email and I thought, oh, it’s just a training problem!  I’ll be there 5 minutes  then I’ll give them a referral. 

Now, this is an ego problem.   My ego was “helping” me see I wasn’t really qualified and rather than embarrass myself by doing a bunch of voodoo and failing, I should assume the problem was pack leadership.  I could give them the name of a trainer, then I could get out.

In the clairvoyant realms we call the ego the Analyzer, for those of you that enjoy career-specific terminology.  But for practical purposes we’ll just stick with ego, shall we?  The ego can solve your problem in 5 minutes, just watch!  The ego has seen it all, heard it all and if you’ll just go with it–for God’s sake, are you even listening–?  Focus!  The ego will do all the pedaling!  All you have to do is balance on the handle bars!

It’s a really rickety way to work and it only gets you to Point B about half the time.

Now, I’m not a dog trainer as we will soon discover.   With that in mind, this was the deal:  Stanley greets the family guests with a round of manic barking, garnished with a bit of jumping.  Then he dashes to the sofa, jumps on board and sits waiting for the hapless guest to attend to him.  If the guest doesn’t comply?  More barking, while everybody waits expectantly for the guest to kiss the ring.  Yep.  He barks at the couple that he lives with, too.  Just barks and barks.

dog on couchMy ego provided a diagnosis.  Damn dog, she concluded.  She showed me an obnoxious, entitled, control-freak, slightly stupid pet.  Sure, there could be an initial cause, but really he was barking because he needed to be trained.

I don’t know, I thought.  I furrowed my brow. I remember a nice enough dog.  Interesting, even.  

The ego ignored me. Hair disheveled, pencil behind the ear and furiously poring over a list of the usual causal factors, I watched the ego deconstruct the barking.

Ugh, that list.  It’s got about 4 factors on it:  not enough exercise, someone needs a doctor, food stinks, blahblah neighbor cat.  It’s not an interesting list; I feel kind of snoozy thinking about it.

The ego was satisfied.  She tapped impatiently at her list.  Yep, it’s gonna be one of these things, then training.  The dog needs training.  We’re not trainers, the ego insisted. WE WON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.  Five minutes, the ego said, tossing her hair.  She stalked off.

I wavered, then I told myself: I trust the pet to tell me the truth.

The client?  She wouldn’t have contacted me if I couldn’t help.

So what happened?  We ran a little over our five minutes; I was there an hour and a half.

I walked in and Stanley did his thing.  He jumped, he retreated, he hopped onto the couch.  He barked, insistently.

sitting dog staringI said oh, you gotta be kidding.  I stared at him.  No way am I going to pet a dog that yells at me.  That is not cool.  His mouth clapped shut.  There was a pause. Then, he got off the couch.  He came to me.  He sat.  He waited.

Well!  I stood there, then the client invited me to sit down and read.  It was about halfway through the reading that I looked clairvoyantly at the dog, all expectant and barking on the sofa, I saw the look on his face and I understood about neutrality and the ego.

The dog wasn’t a control freak, nor was he stupid.  What he was doing, was trying to make them laugh.  The look on his face, bless him, was joyful and open and silly; he was trying to lighten everybody up, in a household that could benefit from that!  It was misguided, for sure, but it was honest and sweet and he was giving it all he had.  He barked at his people for other reasons, but his controlling behavior was really meant to be therapeutic.

I talked to the client about the need to control the guest thing. Put the dog in another room, don’t let him out until he stops yelling.  Tell him what you’re doing. Look, I told her, this dog is so smart, you can make up another, more pleasant job and get him going in a different direction.   

Intelligent dogs, and working breeds–if you don’t give them something to do, they’ll often make something up.  More often than not, you won’t like it.

Much of the rest of the reading focused on one of the humans, who needed to make better sense of her self and her role in the family.  As usual, it wasn’t really about the dog, but without neutrality, I wouldn’t have seen it.



teacup poodleI almost missed her.  I was so determined to find a gossip rag and have me a quick catch-up, I almost did.   Then I turned around and there she was.

Nellie was sitting on her human’s lap in the dentist’s office, all tricked out in a service vest.  A teacup poodle, she tipped the scales at just under 4 pounds.  She was a lovely, natural redhead who needed a wee trim around the bangs: there and there.  How the hell did they find a vest that small?

Nellie was smiling at me.  I prepared to squeal with delight–quietly; it was a dentist’s office–but then I stopped short and asked the teenage girl, “I bet you want me to leave her alone, don’t you?”  The girl, shy and sweet and muffled in some kind of orthodontic apparatus, shook her head and said, itth okay so away we went.

children's hospitalHer name was Nellie and she was four pounds of awesome. Right around a year, kind as the day is long and cute cute cute cute cute. She put her paws on my knee and communicated furiously that it was remarkable luck to meet such a high quality person on this day of days.

I’m intuitive; I’m pretty sure she meant it.

While all this was going on she gave me a pretty thorough bath.  That was one tiny tongue.  The perfect amount of saliva.  A soupçon of moisture, who could object?

I admired her hair color and she administered some service.  As much as a service dog on level 2 of like 90 levels can offer.  She was a natural, though. In my head I saw Nellie fully trained.  I saw that she was very proud of her work.

We oogled at each other.  A dental assistant drifted past, smiling. “I already got my therapy,” she announced, airily.  We watched her go by.  I didn’t smile back.  She was interrupting my session.  What kind of —

I looked down at Nellie.  She’d tipped over and was waiting for a belly rub.  It didn’t seem like part of our agreement but as I patted her it became apparent we were still in therapy.

Nellie was meant to be their pet, but then a key player in the family had an accident.  They took her to the hospital for visiting hours and even as a puppy she surprised them by hunkering down next to the Patient and staying still for hours.  This of course was such un-puppy like behavior that they began to consider she might be up for a job.  When we met, Nellie was at the beginning of her training.

Her goal?  Apparently, it’s to lick and cuddle patients at Children’s Hospital in Denver.  A perfect gig for a little peach-colored poodle.

In the meantime, her people are trying to fatten her up so her vest will fit better.





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