Communication

In the beginning, when I first started working with the cats, all the time they were talking to me, I couldn’t hear them.

I could hear my heart pounding during prolonged eye contact. I could wander my gaze over the face, look into the eyes, but never really knew what I was looking at. I would notice the silence, the air was filled with their eyes. I was sure they were intelligent, but their communications remained a mystery, partly because I wasn’t fully aware of the possibilities and points to ponder.

It took a long time to begin opening communication on a level where I could be sure of what I was transmitting/receiving so as not to be utterly improbable and ridiculous. There had to be solid evidence, I was skeptical, but open. I actually thought the potential for ridiculousness was greater than that for reward, until I found out.

When I was three years old, my brother started school and almost every afternoon when he got home he would teach me what he’d learned that day. By the end of his first year, I surprised my mother one day when we were out shopping, by pointing to a sign, and asking her, “Does that say speck-ee-al?” Once over the shock, and the “when did you learn to read!?!” she said “There are rules, in this case the “c” is called a “soft c”, and the “i” is silent, so it’s ‘speshal’.” My mother taught school, she later became a specialist in teaching elementary school children to read, but she hadn’t known before then that my brother was teaching me to read during our afternoon play-times. “Let’s play school! I’m the teacher” he would say.

The reason I bring this up is that the willingness to learn needs to be opened up by a need once we get beyond childhood more often than not. So I didn’t even know I needed to learn how to communicate with the cats at first. They had to tell me, over and over again, with great patience I might add. Another point: unique communication can be happening right under your nose but you might not see it if you aren’t looking for it.

My poet friend, what was it you were saying about communication?

About how words are only the sprinkles on top, the little delights, the pins and needles, satin ribbons, elastics, egg-shells, twisty things….

In the cat’s ears, it’s not the words, just the drone and tone and pitches and switches of voice. It doesn’t matter what the words are saying, they are only communicating something about the heart’s true place. The cats, like children, pick up on that. However, sounds including the sound of their names and certain keywords will catch on, and remember, never accidentally impose limitation because you’re inadvertently accustomed to assuming animals can’t learn one thing or another.

So to communicate the first two steps are
1. Be quiet and observant
2. Get used to having your heart in a strong place 24/7, that is, focus all faculties, connect with the animal in whatever way you can. Best if you actually feel the love for that animal like it was your very own dearest baby, that is the big love without any smudges, doubts or interruptions. It isn’t easy, I don’t automatically love everyone all the time, even though there’s no reason not to. So if you’re stubborn like me, it takes practice.

The third step is listening, not with your ears but with your eyes, hands and heart.

You’ll be amazed at what you hear more often than not.

And the 4th step, well, it’s an invention. Every cat must have a song. A short ditty with a catchy melody and their name as part of the lyric. You sing it to the cat repeatedly until he/she knows it’s “my” song. You sing it whenever they approach. You sing it when you give them food. Whenever they are nervous or upset you sing it. You sing it just for fun. You sing it up close, you sing it from 20 feet away, you dance while you sing it if you’re 20 feet away. (I’ve found that always gets their attention.) You sing it every chance you get.

Every cat, especially in a shelter, needs a song. It communicates something to them: I see you, I know you, I care about you, you are “speshal”.

Example: Take the song “Row Row Row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream” and change it to “Slow slow slow your pace, like a little prince, Mortdecai Mortdecai Mortdecai Mortdecai, you should nap on chintz”. To “At the Copa”: “His name is Tylo, he makes me a smile-oh, he’s the best looking cat in Ohio”.

I know it’s silly, but it’s fun and it works. The thing is, don’t use the same tune for different cats in the same shelter. You don’t want anyone shortchanged. You’ll need a repertoire of nursery rhymes and 6 bar phrases.

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the soul and sowelo

The word “sowelo” comes from the ancient nordic runes, and means “sun”. A Sun God, or Goddess, in this case.

Sowelo was an extraordinary kitty mama, she found her calling, she was born to be a mama, and her personality changed drastically for a time after she was spayed. She experienced the same sort of loss of purpose that Elsa, the original feral queen did, when, after several litters outside in the colony, and one last one inside the shelter, she was spayed, and immediately went into a deep funk. She had adjusted, reluctantly, to living indoors during the weaning, but without her nurturing duties as a focus, she seemed like she didn’t know what to do with herself. This was not the case for other spayed feral females who were treated before coming into reproductive capacities. If they are spayed before their first heat, before they get any older than 6 months, they haven’t learned the behavior pattern yet, it makes a difference in their personalities going forward. But Sowelo was acting stressed, became lethargic, wouldn’t eat. Imagine caring for your beloved little ones for the first twelve weeks of their lives, they are the pride and joy of your existence, then they are suddenly adopted out, they vanish, and you are carted off to a strange cold place you don’t understand, and when you come back, you are a completely different creature. I tried to put myself in her place, and even though it was necessary without any doubt, to keep her from further breeding, I had to consider how the changes in her hormones, instincts, practices would affect her future. This is a feral cat. The transition must be similar to a feral child, like “Wolf-Boy”, being taken and placed in an erudite home and dressed in fine suiting. There are going to be some issues.

sowelo and kittens

sowelo and her kittens

It has been common practice, due to limited funding, expertise, space, resources, etc. to focus the rescue work on performance of spay/neuter surgeries, making sure they take place, and considering the job done, and being grateful for that, because every day rescuers may be facing a boatload of new-found ferals who need the same treatment. While keeping the population from getting even larger, there is a lot more involved than just completing neutering and basic health-care agendas. The routine of having to dismiss the “emotional adjustment” these animals are challenged with, by default, in favor of just getting the main job done, is changing. The wake-up call has rung out, and a departure from the traditional triage consciousness is opening into an area of ideas with broader horizons. We need to see the whole gestalt with clarity. To honor and respect the souls, yes I said souls, of all creatures. Not just the spirit, mind you. The heart and soul.

It was a little rocky at first, but Sowelo came around, while having sublimated her “care-giver” temperament, she now is a frequent groomer of others. Sowelo is always grooming someone. She does so almost automatically, as if she were the nurse-in-charge.

the eyes have it all

 

Earlier this day I was deep-cleaning the room where 4-5 of these cats sleep, which entailed moving of furniture, vacuuming, generalized spring cleaning purrmutations, and it created a stir in both Pache and Bo-Peep, while Tindi and Woobie just basically ignored it and hopped under the table, respectively. Tucci (after Stanley) was out in the living-room at the time, as she often is.

 

Bo-Peep is used to testing boundaries, but she looks to me for advice. Her eyes search my face. She seems placid while attentive. It suddenly strikes me how often I have seen her looking at me that way. It’s like I am her mother, and maybe I am, since I bottle nursed and poopy-wiped her as a tiny kitten after her mother, Regina, abandoned her suddenly after a few weeks of being a doting mama. I video-taped one of our early morning feeding sessions. You can watch it here.

 

Pache actually was terrified, not so much of the vacuum cleaner, as of the moving of the book case and chest and the box on top of it, her favorite little nest. She dislikes the vacuum, this I have known for some time, but the furniture moving was almost too much for her to bear. Pache is my little diva, she is hypersensitive, beautiful and sweet, but like any diva, she can really lose it sometimes. She is a nervous type of personality, and feels best when everything is just like it is, and everyone is just who they should be. She doesn’t ride the waves of change very easily. When the task was completed, Pache came out and begged attention. Her eyes told me everything. I will never forget what I saw in her eyes and how absolutely clearly it came across: alarm, upset, confusion, a little panic, then when I stopped to comfort her, it began to change to consolation-seeking, relief, slowly her eyes calmed with every stroke and sweet-talk whispered, at first barely accepted, tinged with disbelief, then emerging with something like gratitude or bonding, relaxing a little, then finally joyful again. Whew!

 

Pache

Pache

Bo-Peep

Bo-Peep