25 November

Food: The Foundation

by Jon Katz

In my life with animals, food is the foundation of love, connection and communication. It is the first step, the opening of the dialogue. Most animal’s lives revolve around food and procreation and while life with humans often disrupts those instincts, they remain important, especially food. Food is the way animals focus on me, and the way I can control and train them. Food brings donkeys into a barn, helps them learn their names, calms them when the vet comes or there are storms. Understanding food brings order and peace to a farm. Animals depend on us for their sustenance, and that is the cornerstone of a powerful relationship. Many of us wish to think it is more complex and emotional than that, but for me, food has always been the key to understanding and training my dogs and other animals.

There are other elements for sure – connection, attention, work and exercise that dogs also love and respond to – but when I get up in the morning and see three donkeys and five sheep, four chickens, three dogs and a barn cat focused intensely on me, they food is the language between us at that moment, and I will always be central to them. When animals are paying attention, they are calm, and they can learn and communicate.

25 November

Life And Love: You Bite The Bullet, Then You Chew It

by Jon Katz
Love And Life

I put one of my favorite Roy Orbison songs – “The Only One” on the Ipod speaker this morning. Like a lot of great writers and singers, Orbison understand longing and sorrow and I have always thought that one of the lines in this song spoke to life as well as anything I could think of: “You bite the bullet and then you chew it…”

Maria was in one of her obsessive organizing modes, sweeping through the house arranging things artistically and I grabbed her and asked her to dance. She was startled and preoccupied, but like me, she never turns down an offer to dance, so in our living room, the sun streaming through the windows, the dogs scattering out of the way we closed our eyes and slow-danced to “The Only One,” a song that softens the soul and opens up the hardest heart.

And I know the words to this song by heart and sang them to Maria while we dance slowly through the old farmhouse living room, ghosts and angels and spirits gathering as a chorus.

“Everyone you know’s been through it, you bite the bullet then you chew it,

Tie the knot at the end of your rope, buy a book to help you cope,

But no consolation gonna come, you’re the only one..”

And then, my favorite stanza, the one that speaks to me of loneliness and longing, love and loss, despair and hope, and I whispered this to my love as we swirled slowly around the soft, the sunlight steaming through the windows.

“And you’re the only one with a broken heart,

The only one who’s afraid of the dark,

The only one in a crowded room,

The only one who sees a blue moon…”

How wise this song is, reminding me that everyone I know has been through it, and so we are all experiencing it together,

yet somehow, when all is said and done, a part of us is alone with it, and sometimes there is no consolation but our own. This is my life, I think, perhaps yours. A wise and true song. How wonderful I have someone to dance with.

“Take a look through history, recant some bits of poetry, you’ll find the words still ring true. Some things don’t change, some things do.

25 November

Animals, Intention And Intuition: What I’ve Learned

by Jon Katz
Intution and Anticipation: What I’ve Learned

Melissa Larivierre asked me on Facebook this morning if I believed animals possessed powers of intuition and can anticipate us. I am grateful for the question, it is one of the things I have been the most interested in during my life with animals. I believe animals do have intuition, do read intentions,  and do anticipate human behavior, especially those who have lived with people for many years – donkeys, dogs, cats, sheep.

Donkeys are extraordinarily intuitive. If I go out to the pasture with medicine or a syringe in my pocket, they will run off. If I have a cookie in my pocket, they will come towards me. If I go out to the barn to get them inside for a vet visit, they often take off. I have to avoid eye contact, carry food, go quickly inside to rouse their curiousity. They seem to read my intentions. If I have business or am anxious they seem to read it, or smell it, or sense it in my eyes, posture, demeanor The donkeys seem to also sense when we are ready to get up and feed them, as they are always waiting for us at the pasture gate. I believe they hear sounds from inside the house. If I am calm and visiting them, they approach me. If I am anxious or angry, they stay away.

The barn cats are intuitive. They sense when we are about to feed them, are always present at that time. A dog like Frieda lives on her intuition. She sizes people up, watches them, anticipates them. A half hour before Maria goes to bed, Frieda goes upstairs and goes to sleep in her dog bed on the floor by our bed. She always knows when Maria is getting tired, often before Maria does.

Dogs are smart about what they need to be smart about and they need to be smart about humans in order to get fed and sheltered. Red is an astonishingly intuitive dog. This morning, Maria was sleeping late and I got up to feed the animals and I let Red out ahead of me, as I usually do. When I got into the barn to get some hay, he was waiting for me, just in front of the bales. When I head out to the sheep pasture, he is always – always – waiting at the gate ahead of me. If I am going to go to town for errands, he goes straight to the car and waits for me. He seems to know what I am intending to do. This also crops up when we are working with the sheep. He watches my eyes, listens to my voice, seems to grasp what I am intending to do.

Dogs are, I believe, astute readers of human emotion, it is why they do so much better than raccoons and get to sleep in bed and eat high-class foods. These feelings are, I believe, instinctive rather than cognitive, that is they don’t plot or plan or analyze in our words. Their instincts are, I believe, beyond our imagination and we diminish them by putting our inferior ideas into their heads.

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