I’d thought about building a cattery for my cat family (Mama Kali and grown babies: Ivy, Morpheus and Percheron) almost as soon as I had moved into my current house in 2001. It was always “Oh, that’d be so cool. The cats would love it so much!” what finally spurred me to action wasn’t the coolness, or the wow factor, it was more of an Ugh factor.
Last Sunday I heard there was some sort of Significant Sports Event happening (the Mega Cup? Souper Spoon? Something like that.) Because of this I hatched a cunning plan.
Assuming there was a significant overlap between people who like sports, and people who like to play in the snow, I had the idea that there would be considerably fewer of the latter because they would be, or be getting ready to, watch the former. This would leave the dogs and I a considerable area to play in the Sno Parks (yes, that’s how they’re spelled) up in the mountains without any, or at least very few people around.
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I took the dogs up to the mountains to play in the snow this weekend. I took a ton of pictures with my big, beautiful DSLR… which my computer isn’t speaking to at the moment. While I engage in some couple’s counseling (and a good deal of swearing) please enjoy these few pictures I took with my phone.
Stay tuned for better pictures and much more fun! Now, where did I put that sledgehammer…?
It wasn’t good enough. Having Hershey less scared of the broom wasn’t a victory. It didn’t purge the monster who had beaten her so memorably from her life. It was still sad to see her slink out of the room whenever I swept.
Normally, having an excuse to not have to clean is great! This was more important than my laziness though. This was about the quality of my dog’s life; this was about her not having to live in fear, and with somethings she wasn’t. Out in the yard, a stick or yard tool in my hand no longer sent her running for the far corner! Sticks or a Chuckit! at the dog park were no longer objects of terror.
So after a hiatus (six months maybe, probably more like a year) we started up again. The good news was that what we had worked on before had held! We could start off this second time around with her touching the broom right away!
To up the ante further the broom was going to touch her! Needless to say, Hershey was dubious of this plan. The pattern was the same as before: Broom, retreat, resetting (or resitting) repeat with broom, reward any sign of progress. Eventually that worked too! The broom could touch her!
Still, I couldn’t actually sweep around her. It was hard to juggle sweeping and treating at the same time. If I left treats on the ground they’d be gobbled too fast and she’d be free to flee after she’d sucked them all up! At the suggestion of a friend who’d used it training her own dogs I tried… Cheez Wiz. It can’t be gobbled up all at once, she had to stay and keep licking if she wanted it, and boy did she want it!
After that, it was like the fear was gone. I could get out the broom, and sweep and not have to worry. In a few short weeks she went from wary but laying on the couch, to dead to the world while I chased the dust bunnies to their inevitable doom. In a month or two I forgot that it was even an issue. I was sweeping, she was laying on the couch (she does actually move, I swear!) and I stopped and remembered what she’d been through to get there. I couldn’t be prouder of her.
So everything was fixed, her fears have been banished forever, never to trouble her again.
I sincerely wish.
In the last few months I’ve noticed a pattern. The fear of brooms has generalized to anything unusual, or unexpected in my (or other’s) hand: a bottle, wine glass, hose, magnifying glass, anything she hasn’t seen before (or often) evokes a response. She doesn’t flee the room like the bad old days but she is nervous and hesitant to come close when an unknown thing is in my hand.
The fear that was beaten into her at such a young age is still there. It may be withered and dry, but like any weed it is adapting to conditions and trying to resurface. How do we beat it now? Will we really be able to? Maybe some part of it will be there her whole life. But for now, I can be satisfied with the fact that she can sleep on the couch while I clean up around her.
I had some Christmas gift returns to make, and had them boxed and ready to go. Perch, who is nothing if not a crass stereotype, decided to get in on the “if it fits, i sits” meme, and live up to his name in the process.
I didn’t name him Percheron because of his habit of perching on things, that was just a happy coincidence, though a number of people’s shoulders over the years might argue otherwise. I named him after the breed of horse because his father was (and actually still is) named Horse, and because it seems I have to have a naming theme for my animals, with the added complication that the cats’ names all have overly complex back stories. Having said that, Perch’s is actually the least complicated.
Anyway, please enjoy this picture of Perchy perching, and have a wonderful Caturday!
Hershey came to me with scars; not physical scars, but mental ones. It quickly became apparent that she wasn’t that trustful of men; ironic, considering who adopted her. I quickly gained her trust, but even today there are men she is fearful around.
Her other big fear, I soon found out, was brooms, or sticks, or canes, or Harry Potter wands; anything stick-like and in someone’s hand. I found this out fairly early on when what I thought was the two of us running around the yard having fun was actually her fleeing in terror because I had a stick in my hand.
It was confirmed even more at a friend’s one evening. She went from having fun with her best buddy Rex, to running tucked tail into the next room when my friend’s grandmother stood up, cane in hand.
Everyone who saw this behavior from her came to the same conclusion: that at some point in her short life before she came into mine, someone had beaten her. Considering she was about six months old when I got her, that means that someone, probably a man, given her feelings about guys she doesn’t know, took a broom to her during the most formative months of her life.
The idea that someone had beaten my sweet girl (never mind the fact she hadn’t been mine at the time) filled me with rage, as well as a desire to do something about it. While ideas about finding this ‘man’ and making him as afraid of brooms as she was were lovely revenge fantasies, they didn’t end the heartbreaking scene of my otherwise trusting and fearless dog bolting from the room whenever I needed to sweep. So not being able (in a practical, moral, or legal sense) to beat the ‘man,’ I decided we’d beat the behavior.
We started small. We worked in short sessions a few days a week, and I tried hard to pay attention to when she was at her limits. First, I asked her to sit and stay on the couch at one end of the room while I brought the broom out at the other end. Any hint of a lack of fear was generously treated. Over the days and weeks the broom got closer and closer to her.
Sitting still on the couch was too much for her, but letting the broom get closer while keeping the table between herself and the broom was tolerable. It got to where she could stand to be with me standing close to her with the broom while treating, and treating, and treating. So far, so good. Now to up our game.
The first time I lifted the broom off the floor while standing close to her she bolted, and the second time, and the third. After a number of sessions she was able to stay, behind the table while the broom came toward her.
We got to where she would touch the broom! She would raise a paw and touch it! I could have cried, I probably did, a little.
And after that, I slacked off. She wasn’t as afraid of the broom as she had been before. She simply left the room instead of bolting when I swept. It was good enough, right?
It was good enough.