attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

Walk with the animals

pinkleader wrote a post about  the mouse in her house that I caught at the birthday party.  It was a very soft, big-eyed, brazen little mouse (I think the big eyes are a survival trait - if it's really cute, you won't want to kill it).  What she doesn't mention in her post is that it was boldly scampering between people's feet, hopping up and down stairs, and basically behaving like it owned the place.

I would have caught it sooner - it was jonesing for that cheese - but it wasn't too hard to catch once we got it out from under the furniture.

I've always loved playing with animals.  I have a somewhat practical approach to pest animals (I put out traps for vermin), and I have no problem with hunting for food (though killing a huge twelve-point buck for its antlers alone seems idiotic to me).  The only wildlife I'm really squeamish about is spiders, and that's in part because they're so alien.  Even so, the really large wolf spiders we used to find wintering over in the old house were so big, they almost seemed like pets.

But anyway - I do like animals, I really do.  One of the fascinating things about the land around the house is the amazing variety of wildlife - from skinks to whipoorwhils, to nesting vultures.  A whipoorwhil even got in our house once.  In a slightly weird decision for an animal lover, I will not have any pets at the house that can hurt the wildlife, so no dogs or cats.  

Bob's not really a dog person anyway.  Cats, though, are my favourite pet.  I love cats - I can't resist luring stray ones to me so I can pet them (wash your hands after - they sometimes carry ringworm).  They mostly seem to like me, too. 

Over the years, many of my friends have remarked on my ability to coax over even the shyest cats - I can get ones to come to me that won't go near anyone else.  I've even been adopted by various friends' animals over the years.  Even the squirmy kittens that won't sit on anyone's lap will go to sleep on me.

This is not some mystical ability, however.  Over the years, I've seen how people behave around animals, especially the people that "love animals!" and yet somehow can't get the animals to come near them.  Some of them have gotten kind of shirty and jealous around me when I display my amazing sooper animal-wrangling powerz.

It's simple.  They done that wrong.  Animals, even tame ones, hate sudden movements, loud noises, and being grabbed at.  They like soft noises, gentle movement, and the willingness to sit still.  This is the secret behind why cats always gravitate towards the one person who is allergic - that person is sitting still, ignoring them, not making any grabby motions.  They have created the most attractive place in the room for the cat, and this is why the cat always gets a totally offended expression when it is unceremoniously dumped off that person's lap - after all, the allergic person made themselves so inviting - the cat feels cheated!

I remember coaxing a little stray cat towards me at a hotel one evening before an event - it wanted very badly to come over, but was really afraid.  I think I coaxed it with little soft noises and my hand out for almost ten minutes, as it came closer and closer, and finally ran up, bumped its head once against my outstretched hand, and ran away again.  I was disappointed, and thought I'd lost my fu, until I found out that no-one else had managed to get anywhere near it.

Patience is key with animals.  When you do get the animal over, or you want to make friends with a new pet, go slow.  Don't be like the date who reveals their entire life story to you in the first five minutes, and gets physical too fast.  You don't like it, and the animals don't either - after all, they hardly know you.  With cats, the trick is to gently rub their cheeks, and with dogs you (very) gently blow in their nose (I'm told this works with horses, too).   In the case of the cat, it gets their scent on you, and makes you familiar.  In the case of the dog, you are introducing your smell to them, so they can get an idea of who you are.  

Cats like to be gently stroked and scritched around their ears and chin.  Let them dictate whether they want to sit on you or next to you, and when they want you to stop, stop.  They will trust you next time they see you, and know that you won't try to make them do something they don't like.  Avoid swooping down on them, or making loud noises.  I saw this happen with a friend's cat, who was mellow and friendly to everyone; a person saw the cat, squeaked "kitty!!" and dove on the cat.  This cat, who loves attention, hissed, ran, and hid behind my legs.  

In other words, don't act like a large predator.

Kittens like to be stroked along their entire body - it feels like being groomed, and makes them feel secure.  I remember being at a house with a very squirmy kitten, overexcited by the number of people in the house who all wanted to play with it, who wouldn't stay on anyone's lap.  I picked it up, and started stroking it with long slow strokes (erm, get that image out of your mind right now), and it immediately went to sleep.  I wasn't grabbing at it, making loud noise, or moving - I just crooned gently at it, and let it sleep for ten minutes.  When it woke up, I let it get down.  It wouldn't let anyone else hold it - they were too loud and grabby.  I got some hostile looks for that.  :)

Dogs also like gentle treatment.  The reason  theblueleader's dogs like me so much is that they know I'm not going to hurt them, and they're always guaranteed a good massage.  Dogs love massage, especially older dogs.  It's also an incredibly Zen thing to do - it's very soothing.  And dogs always remember the people who treat them well.

Wild animals are different - they don't like being touched, so you will always stress them by trying to catch them (I admit, this does not always stop me - I am fascinated by animals, and want to get as close to them as I can).  However, by being quiet and patient, you can get them to come very close.  Again, the key is behave as little like a predator as possible.  

Regent's Park in London (walking distance from my mother's house) is a waterfowl sanctuary; the birds there are semi-tame, but object loudly (and it's illegal) to being touched.  I've told the story before about the snow goose that tugged on my coat so I would remember to give him bread, but I've also managed to get small birds (sparrows, mostly) to land on my hand, true Disney-Princess style, and eat the crumbs out of my palm.  I had to sit stock still for a good fifteen minutes, but patience pays off.  

I hope to get the vultures at the farm completely comfortable with us, so they keep coming back and nesting.   I'm okay with snakes in the outbuildings, since they take care of the mice.  And, the mice are cute, but they're enormously destructive.

(And pinkleader, as much as you might have wanted to cage the little mouse, it wouldn't have been happy.  Wild animals, even ones that come into houses, don't do well in captivity - they tend to die quickly.)

I'm an advocate of animal responsibility, but I'm not fanatical about it - I still eat meat, and have no problem with culling overly large deer herds (a real problem in our area).  But I think it behooves all of us to garden with an eye to the local wildlife, to care properly for our pets, and to take responsibility for our awesome power over the animals on this planet.  I'm not biblical, either - I don't think we "own" the animals we have around us, but we do maintain a kind of stewardship over them because of our ability to really fuck with their survival on an individual and a global level.

Animals have homes, they feel pain, they feel fear, they care for their young - it's a mistake to anthropomorphize animals, but it's also a mistake to disregard their needs entirely, as most of the perps on "Animal Precinct" seem to do (yes, sir, your dog needs food to live.  No, you can't go on a month's vacation and leave the dog shut up in its crate.  Yes, you are a scumbag, sir).  Even seemingly innocuous things like taking a box turtle home as a pet can be very damaging - the wild population of box turtles in some areas of the US has been genetically damaged by the lack of mating pairs as a result of "pet" takers.  And what if that kidnapped turtle had eggs? 

(tl:dr - hunting elephants for ivory, cutting down rainforests, taking box turtles from the wild to make them 'pets", and neglecting/hurting your pets - all bad.)

But aside from that, animals are fun.  We don't want to lose them from our lives, and it's a good thing to make them happy in return for the happiness they give us.  Learning how to treat animals so they like you makes that even more fun, and if you try these techniques, you'll get good results.  I am the animal whisperer.  I haz de powerz!!!!!!  I am mad with da powerz!!!!!!!!!!! 

*ahem*  To sum up:  Frenetic energy means danger to an animal - even when they're ready for play, you need to keep an eye on them and stop when they're ready to stop - they'll like you more for it.  Loud noises and sudden movements are predator moves - be still.  Move gently, speak gently.

And if you're Bob, make carrot noises.  The man can lure a rabbit over like no-one I've ever seen.
Tags: animals, shameless ego, wildlife
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