Saturday, December 8, 2012

Validating the Feelings of Animals

It surprises me when I hear that people don’t take time to communicate with the animal family members in their households. I wonder what kind of relationship between “master” and “pet” is going on, and that it must be very different than the relating to animals that occurs in my home. For instance, the feline family member in my home, Avalon, is kept in the loop. We communicate with him and validate his feelings to the extent that guests wonder out loud to my human family members, “Who is Debbie talking to? Has someone arrived?” The nice thing that occurs when humans reach out to them is that humans start to notice how the animal family member is reaching out to them.

I can be a real worry-wart when I am unable to locate Avalon. He is uncomfortable with the outside world, yet loves prowling out the front. Once, he even got locked out for about five hours in the rain when it was thought he was inside sleeping as the last human left. Also, I have often disturbed his slumber either by yelling for him to respond so I know where he is, or I have disturbed him with kisses when I have finally located him. His solution to this is that he stands on the bottom two stairs, front paws ready to take off up the stairs, and bleats like a lamb until he is acknowledged. “Oh, you’re off for a nap? Okay. Thank-you. Sweet dreams,” and off he goes, I’m sure, certain that he won’t be disturbed.

I have a colleague who feels just awful that she can’t afford the $4,000 for her cat to have surgery. Her cat isn’t interested in food and is sixteen years old. I asked her if she’s had a talk with her cat, informing her of her diagnosis, suggestions the doctor has made, what she’s decided to do, and why. She looked at me incredulously. It may be helpful if she communicated why the medicine is important for the cat, that she would do her best to serve appetizing foods in a way to assist her cat’s appetite, and that the lack of $4,000 isn’t the issue since she wouldn’t go ahead with the surgery anyway. Validating how the cat must feel by imagining how she would feel with the same diagnosis is also helpful, because up until that moment, the cat may feel all alone in pain and misery without the compassion that can make any bad experience just a little better.

My animal neighbor, Coco, was most upset when her eighty-year old human-daddy got carted away to the hospital.  All she knew was that her constant companion, for the eighty-year old has been retired longer than Coco’s whole life, was suddenly gone.  She howled constantly during the day and night for days.  I finally got the scoop about the human neighbor’s condition and was informed that he’d be returning home shortly.  I saw Coco, so informed her about it all and further acknowledged her feelings about missing her human daddy.  She stopped howling.  Animals simply want to be heard.

When one beloved dog dies and the other is left alone, many humans think the dog who remains is moping around and not eating because he needs a new playmate, when in reality, he’s in mourning, just like the human is. What about acknowledging the loss the remaining dog feels? Why not have a heart to heart talk and cry together? Did the remaining dog get to sniff the carcass of the deceased for a full understanding, or did the dog simply drive away and not return? If a human knows they’re taking their doggy family member to the vet to be euthanized, it is thoughtful to allow the other animal family members to say goodbye to each other. It’s possible the ill one won’t be able to do much, but they both deserve to know what’s about to happen in play-by-play detail. Of course if there’s some sort of contagious disease, goodbyes may be forbidden, but chances are the two were together during the onset of the disease anyway. Common sense cannot be abandoned, but recognizing that the animal family member has feelings too is a must. Validate the feelings of your animal family member today.

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