TRAINING CATS TO DRINK WATER

To achieve new heights, we have to acquire new habits and tell ourselves a different story.

Stay with me, there’s a point to this drinking water thing.

We’ve always had cats. If you have cats, you know what happens.

Cats train you to do some really funny things. They get us to act in ludicrous ways, irrational ways. And we end up believing in the idiocy, too. We even believe it’s natural. “Cats are like that–they’re finicky!” we say.

It starts out very innocently. Maybe the cat starts playing with water coming out of the kitchen tap. Soon, every time you turn on the tap, the cat is there to play some more, and maybe take a few sips.

After a while, you begin to notice that the water level in his official water dish, stays the same. “Oh, no!”, you think. “The cat isn’t getting enough water!” So you turn on the tap. He jumps up and gratefully starts drinking.

Before you can say, Holy Catfish! you have a cat who will only drink out of the faucet.

Eventually, you even have to adjust the flow of water to just the right speed–not too fast, or he’ll be frightened. Not to slow, or he’ll walk away in impatience.

It will seem very normal to you, too. You will simply accept the process as what you have to do to get him to drink.

Until you see someone else doing this in their house, with their cat. And then you see how ridiculous the situation is.

For us, it was when we visited a friend with a cat. He had half a dozen caps from cans of shaving cream arranged around his bathroom floor, each cap filled with water. He told us (in total seriousness) he had to do this so his cat would drink water.

I burst out laughing. Because, you know, I know, and Pete knows….

No cat dies of thirst because his water is in the wrong-sized container.

No cat starves to death because his food is not the right brand.

Your teenager isn’t going to starve because you don’t make his sandwich the right way, with the right bread.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you’re hungry enough, when you’re thirsty enough.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you want something badly enough.

I was thinking about this today. Oh, all right, I admit, because I now have a cat who will only drink water who has trained me to think she will only drink out of the bathtub faucet.

As I watched her drink this morning, it suddenly occurred to me…

I wondered what have I trained myself to do….
What story have I told myself….What story do I ‘know’…
That’s getting in the way of getting what I really want in my life?

I’ve been fearful of “not doing it right” with an upcoming workshop I’m teaching–to the extent that I wanted to cancel it. I want to do it badly. But I think I can’t do it unless I do it perfectly.

I have a project dear to my heart, something I’ve been dreaming about for six years. I have a million reasons ‘why it won’t work’. Today I wrote in my journal all the excuses I’ve made up for why I shouldn’t do it: ‘I know’ there’s no way to exhibit it. ‘I know’ there’s no one who would buy it. ‘I know’ I shouldn’t start it til I have the whole concept figured out perfectly.

Well, duh, who cares??!!

I want to do it.

And the only thing holding me back is the story I’ve been telling myself, and all the ridiculous reasons I’ve made up about why it won’t work.

So giggle a little at the thought of Tomcat Toes drinking daintily out of a lovely assortment of plastic cups. Smile at the thought of chubby Chai shlurping heartily from the bathtub faucet. Let’s tease my sister not wanting her son to go to California years ago because he would never make himself a sandwich and so he would go hungry….

But the next time you have a project, an idea, a glimmering of something that makes your heart beat a little faster….

Listen hard for the imaginary can’t/shouldn’t/no-way thinking that could have you drinking out of a shaving cream cap within a few weeks.

Won’t that look silly?

Now go to your studio. Write that song. Start that video. Get out your brushes.

Me? I’m gonna go dust off my sewing machine.

And yes, I will share my big project when it firms up a little more. Just keep those cups of water outta my sight for awhile, okay?

OH, THOSE CATS….

And now, a short break from my regularly serious program…. Trying to stay sane as our giant snowstorm turns into a giant cold and gray rainy day.

Today I read a short news item in our local newspaper about the newest recipient of Britain’s Dickin medal.

The Dickin medal, awarded to animals in wartime for bravery and devotion to duty, is the highest military honor an animal can receive. A bomb-sniffing black Lab in Afghanistan named Treo won it this year.

I was intrigued by this about the medal: “It has been presented to 63 animals since its inception in 1943, including 32 World War II carrier pigeons, three horses and a cat.”

Thirty-two pigeons. One cat. What gives??

Wikipedia says this about the cat’s win:

1949: Simon – the ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, noted for surviving injuries from a cannon shell, raising morale and killing off a rat infestation during the incident, by doing this duty despite being wounded. He was raised to the fanciful rank of “Able Seacat” and awarded a campaign medal. The medal was sold by the Royal Navy and is now a valuable collectors item, partly because Simon has been the only cat to win the medal

I don’t know why I think it’s so funny that only one cat has won. For sure there’s just something about them being beaten out by so many birds that tickles my funny bone.

Granted, cats are just not very reliable when it comes to delivering messages, except for the occasional “Yo! I’m outta cat fud!” one. Or when they eat YOUR food instead.

On the other hand, I think this kitty really does deserves a medal!

TRIBES #1: RUNNING WITH THE PACK

Last summer, we came back from our first Caribbean vacation with a rescue dog. A puppy, in fact, from the Turks and Caicos Islands. Most people bring back a t-shirt or some shells, we came home with our first dog.

Watching him grow and adapt to our household has been a treat. I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t make us laugh.

He’s desperate to belong–a potcake cannot survive on the islands without his mates. Here in our home, it means fitting into our family. Watching his antics as he tries to befriend and play with our cats is a hoot.

There are no other dogs in our household, so of course he mimics many of the our cats’ behaviors. He has been around other dogs, of course. But he and the cats are together 24/7, so they are his first source of observation. For example, he noticed that both our cats take a piece of kibble, drop it on the floor, then eat it. And so he does the same.

The funniest cat imitation is how he goes up and down stairs. He watched our cats closely as a pup to see how they did it. Aha! One step at a time.

It worked when he was a puppy because he was the same size as our cats.

But he’s a lot bigger now. As he grew to the size of a border collie, it got harder and harder to scrunch up his body to take each single step. His contortions were extreme.

Yesterday, he had a sort of doggie breakthrough.

For the first time, he took the stairs in great, bounding leaps, three at a time. He practically flew up those stairs.

The look of pleased astonishment on his face was delightful. “Aha!”, he seemed to say. “I can bound!”

There’s a lesson in here for us; you know that, right?

When we have no other examples to learn from, we believe the right way–the ONLY way–is what we see around us.

We look to the people around us to learn “the right way” to do things.

That’s perfectly fine, if we are surrounded by excellent examples. But ask yourself: Perfect examples of what?

Not many artists grow up surrounded by artists and encouraged by other artists.

If you are a dog, there are only so many things you can do like a cat. No matter how many cats you surround yourself with, you cannot be a cat. No matter how much those cats wish you were a cat, you are still a dog. No matter how much they wish you were not a dog, it ain’t gonna happen.

If you yearn to make things with your hands, if you love to draw or paint, if you love to make music, or you must dance in order to think… (I urge you to listen til he gets to part about the little girl who could simply not sit still in school. It is astonishing.)

…And the people around you do not understand that….

What contortions would you put yourself through to fit in?

I scrunched to get up and down those “stairs”, for years. I’ll bet many of you did, too.

When I finally broke through, and created my own paradigm, I felt a freedom of spirit I hadn’t felt since I was a kid.

Ever since, I’ve encourage others do do the same–to find some way of getting their heart’s work out into the world.

Because when you try to bury who you really are, bad things can happen.

If you cannot be the artist you are meant to be, you may become a shadow artist.

I guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

KITTEN THERAPY

I’m slowly returning to normal activities, and my spirit continues to mend, too.

It was a shock to learn that the spirit can take longer than the body to recover from a long year of injuries and setbacks. It was a good lesson to learn, though. I think I’ve gained more compassion for others in the same boat. You can handle one setback, another and another. But at some point, your soul just wants to hunker down and run.

We’ve always heard that when we are down in the dumps, it can help to reach out and help others. It’s a good way to get us outside our own heads, a way to move and act without being totally self-referential.

But if even that seems like too much, here’s a lower-threshold spiritual treatment I can almost guarantee will provide the same benefit:

Kittens.

There’s something about kitten antics that makes everything else weighing on your heart just fly away.

Everything is wildly interesting to them–the hem of your jeans, the tie on your robe, the cord on your window shades, the dryer lint in the waste basket, the bug crawling on the floor.

They jump, bounce, flounce, roll, and cry piteously when their tail is, in turn, mistaken for a toy by a sibling.

And if you get tired of dealing with a hamburger-sized ball of fuzz that sees everything in the world as attackable, there’s always an exhausted yet hugely grateful mom-cat who’s happy to simply sit and be petted.

Now, you don’t have to rush out and buy kittens. In fact, there’s a great way to have an (almost) everlasting supply of kittens on hand.

You can be a kitten foster care provider.

One of our favorite family volunteer projects is to act as a foster home for our local humane society. When they receive a pregnant cat or a mom-cat with young kittens, they quickly place them in homes for temporary care–about one to three months, or until the kittens are old enough to be safely adopted.

This gives the mothers a calm, loving environment outside the shelter. It gives the new family a haven from all the diseases that course through a shelter. It ensures the kittens get maximum socialization with humans, critical to their emotional development as family pets.

And as a side effect, our family gets to enjoy kittens in all their glory for two months.

Just when they reach those teenage years (in kitten time), they are all ready to go back to the humane society. The mom cats, unfortunately, may have to wait for new homes. But at least the kittens are adopted quickly, usually within a week. Although I confess, our current pair of cats, our clown-cat Chai and our nervous-nelly cat Moxie, were both former mom-cats in our home.

The layout of our home allows us to set up a foster cat station apart from the other critters. Our two regulars know something is going on, of course. Suddenly, interesting food is delivered to a room that’s now off-limits to them, and they aren’t allowed to drink out of the bathtub faucet anymore. Their bewilderment is palpable, and their attempts to convince us that they need that extra nice cat food, too are amusing.

Our latest batch came to us last week. The mom-cat has been christened “Juno”, after the movie with the young pregnant teen heroine of the same name, because she is so outrageously young herself. (A visitor, on seeing her emerge from the “nesting box”, exclaimed, “That’s the mother??

The kittens are tiny, and just now starting to open their eyes. Three golden mackerel tabbies (probably male), two black torties (probably female.)

They’re really too young to play with yet, and Juno waits anxiously nearby when we handle them, ready to snatch them back at the least little peep out of them.

But already, everything is delightfully right in the world.

P.S. This works with puppies and bunnies, too.