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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.


( 45 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
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Apr. 2nd, 2008 12:19 pm (UTC)
My mom likes to tell random people the story about going to see what I was up to in the front yard (I was five) and finding six stray cats nuzzling me.

Kittehs are my favorite pet too.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC)
I totally agree with you on the deer hunting. I grew up in rural western Pennsylvania, and I can remember a few years when the hunters didn't take enough deer. After seeing them starve, you become a supporter of hunting very quickly. I don't hunt myself, because it is a waste of time. In all the years I went deer hunting, I only saw one, and I dodn't even get a shot off before it was gone :(
Apr. 2nd, 2008 12:41 pm (UTC)
One of the most irritating things PETA did with deer was to attempt to "relocate" the extra deer; the poor animals died of shock and fear, and did could not survive when dropped into alien territory. This goes to prove that Peta does not actually know anything about animals, they just ahte people. (ooh - controversy!)
(no subject) - reasdream - Apr. 2nd, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - chargirlgenius - Apr. 3rd, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amykb - Apr. 2nd, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
deer hunting - gianetta - Apr. 2nd, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
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deer in gardens - gianetta - Apr. 2nd, 2008 09:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2008 12:39 pm (UTC)
Cats rule. I loves my kitty babies. :)

I'm the same with animals, for the most part. I've been known to have butterflies and lizards decide I'm a good sunning perch when I'm laying out to get a tan. :P My baby brothers once heard from a friend that a good way to get a great reaction from a sister-type person was to hand them (unknowingly) a skink or a frog. Poor little guys... they handed me a hoppy toad, only to discover that not only did I enjoy holding the darn thing, but I thought it was the cutest little hoppy toad I'd ever seen. (It was about the size of my thumbnail. Adorable!) They never tried to hand me anything 'icky' again. *grin*

Yay for super ninja animal powers. :)
Apr. 2nd, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
My mom calls it Kitty Fu as being a Cat Whisperer.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
You need indoor-only kitties. That's what mine are, and given enough space, they're content as hell. And no, NONE are declawed. I don't believe in taking away their natural protection just to preserve my furniture. What if, in a freak accident, they got out of the house? (One did, actually, but freaked out about it and ran back in. And these are cats that were outdoor cats for years, but now...not interested.)

Heck, they have a scratching post, which they utilize with great aplomb. The furniture's pretty safe, even with the claws.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 01:40 pm (UTC)
Yea for indoor kittehs that are not declawed! We have four and they are quite content indoors (and frankly too stoopid to survive outdoors). We love them to death and they entertain us endlessly. Oh, and they also take care of the occasional field mouse that makes the mistake of coming in for a visit.
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
I have the same kitty-fu. Being mellow and relaxed makes cats, and really any animal feel much more comfortable. I had a stray that used to come sit with me every night on the porch, allow me to feed and groom it, and even sometimes fall asleep on my lap. No one else could get near it, but it followed me like beloved pet. I have a bit of a feeling that I was as much his pet as he was mine. Eventually he started sneaking into the house to sleep on my bed. I was sad to leave him when I moved, but he was a wild thing and would never be tamed.

For some strange reason, our housecats have decided I am their type and have taken the head-butting me as a greeting. I accept this in stride and provide good scritching when they want it. Similarly, my friends cats approach me in the same way, much to the annoyance of cat grabbing adults and children.

But bless you for having such an outlook on wildlife. I am a curator of a butterfly garden mundanely and people always want to know how they can create their own enclosed butterfly gardens at home. I explain that turning their backyard into a butterfly sanctuary will win them many more visiting butterflies, but they want them locked up. How very sad that they miss the point of it.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)
When my next door neighbours split up, the cats were left with the one that stayed, and the outdoor (exclusively - he'd started life outdoors) one used to come and climb into my lap and sleep when I sat outside. I would carefully groom him (LH domestic), since the person next door and their new SO didn't seem to give a damn that he was getting badly matted.

I'm told that he never did that for anyone else, ever. But he liked me.

I blame Disney for the butterfly thing - people think of animals as performing possessions, not animals. They are therefore shocked and surprised when things don't work out the way they thought - butterflies are territotial, and get into bad fights when crammed into small spaces. Heck, we get to watch the Tiger Swallowtail battles all summer. :)
(no subject) - compass_rose - Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - serenalyons - Apr. 2nd, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2008 02:16 pm (UTC)
Would you like a job? *g* It's amazing to me how few people have figured out these basics. Heck, I have a tech who is terrified of cats when they get wound up (which we refer to as Ann's Pussiphobia). Though naturally in a vet's office, the animal considers the stakes to be higher. Still, I can always use a good Cat Whisperer on staff. When they decide to blow, they move so darned fast!

And from my perspective, one other piece of advice to most folks would be - if you see an injured wild critter, LEAVE IT ALONE and call the DNR. You might get hurt, IT might get MORE hurt, and the DNR will fine you to the best of its abilities if you try and mess with it. No, I don't want you to bring it into my office. I don't have the right equipment or drugs anyway. And I have to get the permission of the DNR to do anything. So let's just begin at the beginning and let them handle it, K?
Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:23 pm (UTC)
Heh - take one cat, add smells from strange sick animals, a whole load of sub-harmonic noise from machines and exhoing walls, and you have a whirling furball with claws.

One of my cats always - always! - threw up on herself while travelling to the vet. Poor thing - she looked so embarrased and apologetic when we got her out of her traveling crate. We had great technicians who would help clean her up. She was a rescue - I think she got scared whenever she had to travel, that she was going back to the pound.

I remember getting her - I was at the pound looking for a kitten, and I see this little calico/white cat meowing frantically at me. I asked to see her, and she hurled herself into my arms and burrowed against me. Of course, what could I do? I couldn't put her back after that. :)
Apr. 2nd, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC)
Indeed, and well said. I like working at SafeHaven for Cats in Raleigh because the volunteers get a lot of time to just BE with the cats. We get to know them very well, and the cats actually get some, gasp, rehabilitation there.

In addition to sitting quietly and and providing an inviting space, slowly blinking your eyes while looking into the cat's face seems to have a calming effect as well.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:14 pm (UTC)
Cats use eye contact as a threatening statement - when cats face each other off over territory, they growl and stare. Closing your eyes means you're not challenging them, but accepting them. I could always get my cats to "smile" when I did that. :)
(no subject) - compass_rose - Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
I've been lucky enough to be invited to visit the Wildlife Health Center up here at Cornell Vet. It's a great place to see the impact, figurative and literal, that humans often have on wildlife. Good for you deciding to keep the farm safe for the wildlife.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)
I feel a bit silly and hippy-ish, but I got so excited to find nesting birds and luna moths, and tiny frogs, and all the amazing animals that it seemed like a good idea.

We also have friends with severe cat allergies and we don't want a dog (lord knows, we get enough "huntin' dawgs" running over the land as it is), so no pets. It all ties together. :)
(no subject) - mstewart - Apr. 2nd, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2008 04:33 pm (UTC)
I always wondered why the cats gravitate to me.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
Are you allergic? Or just quiet? :)
Apr. 2nd, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
I must admit that I was thoroughly impressed with your mad skillz. I was standing at the top of the stairs all ready to block the mouse's escape route with my Superman cape when you ninja-flew onto him... well done.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)
And hear I thought my kitty-fu came from growing up in a menagerie. We always had a dog and a cat (the siamiese slept in my crib, no old-wives-tales for my mother) and the basement was full of guinea pigs, mice, hooded-rats, rabbits, snakes and the skunk, groundhog and occasional possum. Did I mention my mother was the local Girl Scout nature lady :)?

I find the cats always like a thumb gently stroked over their head, I think it reminds them of mom.

Here's hoping a ready-to-be-lazy stray cat finds you at the farm so you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
I still say it is magic.

And yeah, I wouldn't have really tried to keep the mouse as a pet, it'd be cruel.

I do like our wildlife friendly backyard. In one morning I can see a host of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, frogs etc. Though luckily we only had the one deer trapped after the fence went up.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 08:31 pm (UTC)
Our cats definitely hate noise-- they won't get anywhere near the maintenance men, because those are the big racket-making Creatures. And one cat is terrified of small children ever since a friend with a small toddler came to visit. The child loved the cat, and was used to his own kitties. Kneazle, however, did not love the noise and the grabbing. He spent the week behind the toilet.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)
Well, nuts. I'm sorry you won't be able to have a nice housekitty.

Just curious - do you like birds? When I was in an apartment that didn't allow cats (long, long ago) I did the next best thing. I'd always wanted finches. So, I got a huge flight cage at the next opportunity, got a few pair, and did pretty well with them. Waxbills, several zebra finches, cutthroats, etc. I would have just died to have Gouldians or owl finches, but it was not to be. I also made sure that the cage was catproof for use in the future.

When I moved into the First Drafty Old Place, I was able to get a cat (an elderly Siamese who paid little attention to the birds), but that wasn't my undoing - I couldn't keep the place warm enough for them. I found new homes for them, and I still miss having birds. However, I think the current collection of felines would take one look at 'em and think "Hmmmm. Budgie Gourmet..." and stare at them until they all had heart attacks.

I still have the flight cage (stored in my garage) hoping for the day that I'll have a studio space separate from the cats and capable of being kept warm enough. Some day, I'll have that horrid garage torn down and have a sort of carriage house built - with a sewing studio on the top floor. Then I'll have birds again.

Er - well - lost in reverie for a moment there - but do consider getting birds if you like them, because I get the feeling that *they* will like *you*. And they're so much fun to watch!
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