Saturday, 31 December 2016

So much love


Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Touching Animal Souls: Out with the old. Thank you 2016, and goodnight!!...

Touching Animal Souls: Out with the old. Thank you 2016, and goodnight!!...: 2016 my dear year! Cannot say I will miss you.  However, the lessons I learned in your passage will remain etched in my soul where they...

Out with the old. Thank you 2016, and goodnight!!!

2016 my dear year!

Cannot say I will miss you.  However, the lessons I learned in your passage will remain etched in my soul where they were sometimes harshly engraved.  I would love to personify you and blame you.  And yet, you have even taken the blame out of me.  So I feel left swaying in your aftermath. 

So many people have left the planet.  Some by choice.  Animals have passed on and new animals have joined the family.  Family changes have been enormous with all sorts of 'shake up's' along the way.  Work has remained a questioning challenge.  Interactions in general have been awakening - not always comfortable. 

So - good bye.  And just for the hell of it - good riddance...

Deep breath

But that is not true.  In real truth - thank you. 

There have been some good moments.  Some great glasses of wine, swims in the sea, long runs and walks, time with so many beautiful creatures, painting classes, long chats with strangers, and friends, moments, moments, moments.  When the being became more important.  When feeling the air or water on my skin was apparent. 

A great guru said to me that human beings are the newest species on the planet, and that nature and the animals are here to care for us.  With this thought in mind, when an animal leaves this plane, they do so in peace, and our attachment is something we have to look at.  The attachment is nothing to do with the soul who has graduated.  The greatest lesson it seems is always going to revolve around projection.  Being able to see our perspective so that we can honour those around us without tarnishing them with our story. 

So - my ode for the parting of 2016 - to people and animals and the very air I breathe.

To all I have tarnished - I humbly apologise
To all I have honoured - I gratefully rejoice
To all I have harmed - I hurt along with you
To all I have cherished - you are part of my heart
To all who have left - you have taken a piece of me
To all I have mourned - I relinquish my hold
Forgiveness is here
Right here
Love is all there is
Thank you!
Happy everyday.

May 2017 be the year of being.  Truly being, even in the doing. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Break the rules!

Funny story.  Driving into Durban city on a really busy Saturday - I reached the first set of robots.  Seeing pedestrians and cars deluxe ahead.  The traffic light turned red as I approached.  And at the same time, a traffic officer stood to reinforce the stop cue.  I smiled.  Only in South Africa...  We need double stop cues.  Because, granted, there is not much respect for road rules.  Not necessarily a good thing...  But it did get me thinking about rules.
This is my worst rule.  No dogs allowed.  Makes my hackles rise whenever I see it.  When I heard from my Catholic nun teacher that dogs don't go to heaven my questioning of the entire spirit system began.  quite sure I don't want to spend eternity without these guys.  Feel the same way about beaches and other spaces where my dogs and animals are not welcome.  I fully believe that if we allowed it, and focussed instead on responsible relationships with the animals in our world, our world would be a better place.  A gentler more respectful planet that we share with creatures and nature, rather than a space we think we are in charge of.  A place where it appears we are becoming more and more separated from the whole.
Onto animal training and rules.  Human beings love rules.  This is a problem when we are working with sentient beings. 
How do we enforce a way of being.  Relationship is not about doing.  So, yes, the theory of animal training is great.  Reinforce a behaviour using positive reinforcements.  Neutral responses for what you don't want.  Touch dolphins on the belly.  Smack puppies on the nose.  Use this bit in the horses mouth for dressage...  and the more we make these rules, the more we forget that the being is before us.  Communicating very clearly.  That dolphin is very ticklish in comparison to this one, but I just think he is ADD.  The puppy keeps biting me when I try smack his nose.  Maybe age old wisdom and punishment is not right for him.  The horse keeps lifting his head.  Yeah.  You hurting his mouth...
Sentient beings.  Motivation 101.  To be safe.  Us and them.  Respect.  Care.  Noting their experience.
When we take time to look at each animal individually.  Look at their experience, as far as possible, from their point of view.  Then we begin to live in relationship.  We begin to sense ourselves as part of something bigger.  Not as the fixers, or saviours.  We can then put down guilt and start to have fun.  We can hear logic, but stop seeing the word as rules and limitations.  That's when miraculous things begin to happen.
 When we are not limited by rules and beliefs, we are free to do amazing things. 
And life is fun. 

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Empty Boat

I notice when I am reactive - as you all do - that my favourite beings are not as comely as they would normally be.  If I am training - it does not go as planned.  And I know - after those interactions with the bestest friends in the world - that I may have left some unnecessary residue.

 Not cool.
Broken communication that has resulted in a little less trust and a slightly poorer relationship.  Chances are - I have not seen things from the animal's point of view because I have been too busy in my own story.  Or, as the case may be - in my own boat.  Why a boat?

I read a stunning little parable.  Goes something like this.  If I am sailing around in a boat and I bump into someone else in their boat - I am likely to feel something and possibly even react.  Guilt, anger, shame, whatever the subconscious is calling for.  If, however, the boat was empty, I would probably do what needed doing, without energy.  The parable calls us - TO BE THE EMPTY BOAT.

The goal - let others pass through our lives and pick up no debris as they move passed us.  So we may still stop them, or ask them to assist, or even provide feedback - but without it getting sticky.

This is real loving communication.  And we all know it.  It is the kind of flow that happens between ourselves and the animals that we care for - in those best moments. 

Be that empty vessel.  Perhaps it does not make as much noise as the old wives said it did(-:

Sunday, 6 November 2016




Being truly harmless – that was the contemplation.  It may be that to be truly harmless we are being truly fearless. 


I feel myself around others.  When they are trying to protect themselves in relation with others still, so hold back in relationship with me.  Goodness.   I know how that feels.  To constantly be sitting on the fence trying to make everyone happy.  I also know how it feels to be honest to a fault. 


What do we prefer – brutal honesty?  Or humane lies?


Let’s go back to standing in front of an animal.  Humane lies – well that is just not going to work.  They can see straight through us.  Just the way we can see straight through each other.  They can see that we are not meaning what we are pretending.  So that will not work.



What is brutal honesty.  Is it honesty?  Or is the energy that delivers that honesty what is being communicated.  Being brutal may be the issue.   Either there is guilt behind the delivery.   Feeling bad that you may be letting someone know something they may not like, or the kind of brutal that is using the information to injure.  Perhaps being brutal and calling it honest is a lie.



So, in relationship with animals – do we displace our frustrations?  Forcing issues that we have in relation with others?  Or work to control something… anything… because the rest of life is so out of control?  Even at a sub-conscious level – is this going on?  It is possible that the energy that we are using in relationship with them – is the energy of insisting they do our bidding – rather than asking them.  If we feel that ‘brutal honesty’ energy, it may be time to step away and re-evaluate the situation – so we can return calm and clear and productive.


So.  Harmlessness.  Is real true honesty.  No holding back.  Doing what we do for the good of the whole.  It is presenting the facts of what need to be considered without justification, excuse or expectation.

It is intrinsic communication.  Fear is the need to justify, excuse or create/live up to expectations. 


Put it all down. Be brave.  It takes courage to free yourself from the expectations of others, or the entrenched belief systems.  What liberty to do it!!!  Just do it.  That is harmless humility.  That is joy! 



The lesson is pondered while I sit under my horse’s belly and doctor his sore leg.  Thank God for Mashatu.  Thank God for horses.  Thank God for animals.



Saturday, 5 November 2016

Sense of humour

Mashatu has a sore foot. So needs some medicine. I crushed the tabs and wrapped them in coconut oil. Mixed them with the first bit of his food. He loves his food. Seems however he is a bit of a connoisseur.  He tried so hard. Puffing and snorting. I sat patiently in front of him waiting to fill up his bowl once the medicine was down. Two more bits to go.  Big snort. He clearly had to tell me something. I just stared at the two bits. Willing him to eat them.  So he picked up his bowl and threw it at me. 😄😁😉😃.  Funny boy. 

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Friday, 4 November 2016

A week of wonder.  Awe for raw humanity.  Noticing realness where I forgot to look for it's substance.  A young orphan boy in the middle of writing his final school exams was kicked out of his home with his deaf seven-year-old sister – because he could not pay rent.  Found wondering the streets at midnight.  My old car creaking up the driveway leaving me feeling out of control of material concerns that I rely upon to 'do my life'.  Plodding around uninspired - at work feeling a true sense of my time being directed to do 'less than tasks'.  A mentor that inspired my book taking his own life.  A guru who is a wellness expert becoming ill.  A friend overcome with grief at a loss resulting in an unexpected relationship moment.  Another friend's talents disrespected - lack of empathy translating into dismissive regard for human value.  My trusty steed of a car actually breaking down.  Hearing that a friend of my son lost his father.
These sentences are all true life stories.  Events that all took place in one day this week.  I felt each event.  At a deep disconcerting level.  I felt disturbed.  At the end of this day I stared into a misty sky and smelt the rain.  I fell silent and took a deep breath.  Trying to unravel the anxiety that held my heart.  Slowly I remembered why I felt so frightened.  I felt the memory of realising that my parents were not Gods.  That they were human.  The memory was of the realisation that I had to take charge of my own destiny.  That I was responsible for my own life.  The overwhelming disturbance of separation from the comfort of security. 
What does all this have to do with animals? 
I am reeling at the end of the day.  Have rushed home.  Late after dealing with the car and missing my philosophy lecture.  Chores rushed and anxiety-fuelled dinner served.  Pour that glass of wine and demand my moment before I throw myself at my pillow, ready to start again in the morning.  I sit down heavily on the patio chair.  Stuck in my debating brain.  Feeling the heaviness of justified misery excusing my reactions. 
Finally, however, I have stopped.   Even though I have not noticed that I have stopped.  But I take a moment to breathe.  I hear a dog next door bark.  My three hero canines leap from the comfort of the couch inside and rush to my side.   I fed them earlier.  Methodically.  Without even noticing them.  I try to remember their greeting when I returned home, and realise I was not present enough to acknowledge them in my haste and angst.  But they are still here.  At my side.  The slightest threat and they hop to it.  Total true companionship.  I sigh.  Feeling a little moment of gratitude.  I hear a one of the horses in the stable let out a puff of convoluted air.  It reminds me of the joy of feeling his bristles on my face as we exchange nose kisses.  Warm horsey breath.  The dogs calm down and the cat jumps on my lap.  He only seems to do this when I feel disturbed.  His soft fur under my hand.  He purrs and I feel his comfort. In the mist on the patio I hear myself breathing again.  I sigh once more.  And then I hear the tree frogs chorusing.  I feel. 
In a moment.  One sense at a time the animals in my life awaken me to what is true.  Now I begin to clarify the day.  Shuffling the ideas and thoughts to ordered spaces where I can begin to appreciate any good there.
I remember a simple saying that always shakes my core - "He is just a man".  There is a cosmic joke in all of this.  The realisation that – yes, we are one.  But to be a part of that one, we need to take full responsibility for all that we feel and do.  For all our reactions and responses.  That when we feel fear – as a result of feeling separated, we are not empathetic.  We are disconnected.  Thank God for my animal friends.  Connecting me back to the moment.  To the inherent oneness.
I realise in a deep space, once more, how judgement causes disappointment.  How expectation is in the way of appreciation.  How empathy is damned with any demand or fear we may have.  One of the horses is obviously lying down in the stable.  I hear him exhale with contentment.  Big breath.
I looked at my day once more.
I found that orphan wrapped up in a blanket on a temporary bed made of all the lounge cushions on the floor of my son's bedroom.  My child had come to the boy and his sister's aid and assisted them to get the help they needed.  Human compassion does exist. 
Gratitude for my ten-year-old car who was messaging me that she needed a small operation.  I did not listen.  The message escalated.  When we broke down my son was with me.  He called his friend to assist.  I called the AA.  Found humour in the fact that the gentleman knew me because my car has brought us together before.  We conversed and I was inspired by his can do attitude.  Which ended up in him finding a fault that only cost R20 to repair. 
Work.  Is a work in progress.  For the good of the whole is the journey.  So grateful for a full life that enables some balance.  My cat purrs louder and unashamedly prods my limbs to arrange his comfort.  Unapologetic for his place and grace on this planet.  There is a lesson there.
My mentor.  Seeing the community of people gather around and support each other.  Being reminded of the lessons he shared.  Noticing that the journey of consciousness remains a choice.  Praying that his departure was as conscious as his life.  Enormous gratitude for the fact that he inspired so much good in my life.  So many wise animal choices.  That many choices I have made are a result of his teachings.  Feeling enormously grateful to him.  And sad.  And that's okay.  Allowing the sadness without any attachment to it.
The wellness guru's health – a reminder that we all walk our own journey.  Holding anyone in high regard, as I did my parents when I was in their comfortable security, will reduce my ability to take full responsibility. 
My friend and her grief – that connectedness goes beyond ego.  In moments where this is apparent, the joy shared in relationship with the animal's in our shared lives is momentous.
My friend and the disrespect afforded him – an opportunity for common good to make a difference.  That respect is not truth.  We are not what people label us to be.  My dog family don't care about my credentials.  The horses have no need for my CV.  The only concern my cat has right now is my lap. 
My son's friend losing his father – the final message of the day.  Lead to the reflection about paternal surrender.  That in relationship with us, animals can see controllers or partners.  I choose partners.
Surrender.  Harmless true surrender.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Animal's Point of View

How often do we really consider things from the animal’s point of view when we work with them.  Even if we don’t formally train them, do we imagine what they are going through?

Consider, for example ‘horse riding schools’ where people are taught to ride horses – as though the horses are cars.  “Pull up here when you want it to stop… bump it here with your heels when you want it to go…”

Or the general advice that is provided, and implemented by dog behaviour specialists.  The packaged insert that says – “Dogs should not sleep on your bed.  They need to know that you are the boss.”

These are two obvious examples of how we apply ‘one size fits all’ methodology without considering the sentient being in front of us.

 But there are less obvious situations too.  Where we actually fail to see what is going on because we are too busy in our own agendas.

We have stories that get in the way. We don’t feel worthy or need to prove ourselves to the world, so when the dog gets out of hand, we see it as a compromise of our own competence, and use that information to prove our belief system about ourselves.  “I am so useless… I will show them I am the boss…  Everyone thinks I cannot do it, but look I can…  The world is out to get me.”  Our story of the moment.  The animal fails or succeeds, and immediately we project our story onto the situation, and so don’t even handle what needs to be handled with witting grace.  Example.  The puppy pees inside.  (Because I overslept – poor pup must have been bursting.)  But my current rose-coloured story is that I am in trouble at work.  My boss does not have much faith in me.  I am upset because it is as a result of a co-worker spreading inaccurate rumours.  I may be late because I overslept.  This will make it all worse.  Poor puppy.  It is very possible I will not react with calm rational understanding that proves that I am an animal lover in this situation. 

There is more to it than just our story.  Consider that many of us battle to read a fellow human beings.  And people are creatures who shares our natural history.  Animals are different species and have completely different ways of experiencing the world.  And all animal species differ.  Some have truly amazing eyesight relative to us.  Or a sense of smell that puts us to shame.  Their eyes are  in a place relative to the world that provides a completely different perspective to the one we experience.  That they use body language to communicate messages we have not even begun to understand.  Their hearing is sometimes so much sharper than ours – that it can hurt for them to live in our world.

Then along we come with our ideas about how they should behave, and we work towards making them behave.  Arrogantly we expect the special creatures in our lives to speak human.  We think they are less than because they don’t speak human.  We base our animal behaviour management principles on human frameworks.  So, because I am aiming to be the boss at work, climbing the corporate ladder at the expense of all those around me, I believe that the animal’s in my life are doing the same.  When the horse runs away in the paddock it is all too common for the people spectating to say “They don’t know who is boss”. 

So, what is the animal’s point of view?

For exotic animal trainers, the animal’s perfect world would be free from humans and human related products and structures.  No longer much possibility of that happening on our planet.  For domestic animals, who have chosen to live alongside animals, it will be in a place where they feel safe. 

Safety.  It is paramount for all creatures.  Does safety mean being the boss?  Ask any boss how safe they feel.  Rulers in our world usually have armed guards.  In the corporate world, it is rare that there are no knives pointing out of the manager’s backs.  This is not safety.

We could relate to the fact that what we all strive for – is safety – at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy.  And we know we are safe when we have control over our environment.  When we have choices about how to interact to maintain our safety. 

This points to a way for us to begin to look at life from the animal’s point of view.  Firstly, consider that when there is a problem in relation with the animals, that the animal does have a point of view.  To analyse – look at how the animal is attempting to control the situation.  Look at why the animal feels threatened, and so has a need to choose something else for themselves.  How much choice do they have at the moment of contention? 

(I googled the following under ‘images’ – animal and choice.  Nothing came up)-:  )

The following questions – relating to choice – are good ones to help you consider something from the animal’s point of view. 

1.        Why is the animal doing this? (what is in it for the animal – the payoff?)

2.       Where does the animal feel safe?

3.       What is the trigger for this behaviour?

4.       What does the animal manage to stop when performing the behaviour we are not wanting?

Thank you Frantiske Susta.


They are daily lessons.  If we stay truly connected to the dream of clear communication with the super creatures in our care, then we will spend every minute looking at how we can remove those glasses, and the preconceptions. 

How can we be truly harmless – in our world, and in relation to animals – we do this when we are absolutely clear that there is no subversive motivation in our everyday actions.  For, if I am in relation to animals, for example – because they are filling a gap that humans cannot fill, then there is a chance that they are there – in my subconscious opinion – to serve a conditional cause.  To make me look good, or to replace my children who have left home, or to provide me with a sense of being needed.  IN all these examples – the animal is not free to just be. 

When we truly see from the animal’s point of view, chances are, that we will be very clear in our own right.  That the animals will have taught us how to simply be.  This is the start of true relationship.


Monday, 24 October 2016

anthropomorphism - putting human qualities onto animals. Is this a concept we can use?

Us animal people work to ensure the best for the animals in our care.  That is why we do what we do.  Sometimes, we care too much to see things with the clarity required.  This oftentimes happens when we are faced with a challenge in relation with them and we justify or excuse the challenge with a label, and then look no further for understanding. 


My new puppy friend Sage has killed a chicken.  For someone who is practising vegan eating, this is a hectic occasion.  I am so sad for the chicken and feel so bad that this bird and all the others have been usurped from their confident roosts at the front door.  There are ducks and geese in the yard too.  I could excuse Sage’s behaviour, and label her as a killer or a problem dog.  I was advised by a friend to tie a dead chicken around her neck for a week.  I could find a new home for Sage because she is ‘a menace’. 


Is there an alternative?  We are working on this.  Suffice is to say the chickens have been rehomed in the meantime, while I deliberate and look for a solution.  We are looking at it from her point of view.  Looking for ways to solve the concern and prevent the loss of any more of the bird’s lives.  And keep Sage in a good motivated space where punishment is not utilised.  I constantly remind myself to look at it from her point of view.  So far we have come up with a DRI.  Using ball fetching during the ritual bird feeding times.  Hold thumbs.  We seem to be making progress.


The lesson is about anthropomorphism.  I recently read an insert that said that negating anthropomorphism is a concept developed by Judaeo-Christian methodology that has effectively justified our separation from the natural world.  I tend to agree to some extent.  Seeing ourselves as part of the world is the solution to so many of our planet’s concerns, and most certainly the solution to relationships – between people and between ourselves and animals.  Anthropomorphism is however a concept that requires some deliberation.  I believe there are two sides to it.  A good side, and a bad side.


The bad side is the side where I label and justify and excuse the animal’s behaviour.  It is the side that comes to play when I am fearful.  Either of my own position being compromised, but more often than not, of doing something wrong that will cause harm to the animals in our care.  It is the type of sentiment that is natural to humans.  Where we resist change and try and keep everything too much the same.  Very often sterilising all joy out of life in the process.  This anthropomorphism is not necessarily true as it is based in fear.


The good side is the empathetic side.  Empathy is generally associated with a feeling state.  Love.  It is easy to confuse love with fear.  True empathy is intuitive.  It is the first sentiment that we consider.  Not the feeling we boil into suffusion as we elaborate worst case scenarios and similar.  The good side of anthropomorphism is not all about feeling however.  It can also be something we objectively observe.  Recording behaviour and noting variables can assist us to find solutions, predict problems, and move to sense something from the animal’s point of view.


So, the trick – use anthropomorphism.  Here are some hints and tips to ensure you are using the good type.

1.        Ensure that you are considering your first feeling.  If you are justifying what you feel, you have probably already headed off into the bad kind. 

2.       Trust your intuition.  And work at making it stronger,

3.       Observe, observe, observe – and where possible, record and verify

4.       Don’t stay stuck.  Do something.

5.       When you fear that there is something to lose, or an outcome to avoid, you are probably in muddy waters.

6.       Be true.  Ask yourself if you are projecting your own stuff or if there really is an anthropomorphic consideration.

7.       Encourage as many people as possible to debate the concern, to ensure that you come up with the best solution possible. 

When I have discussed the ‘animal points of view’ with others, I have always been amazed at how often our feelings are similar.  There is something to be said about that.  Beware that you don’t go into the negative spiral of discussion.  Just see what is, and then you have a foundation from which to work.


Wish me well with Sage.  Will keep you informed.


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Moments without comparison are perfect


Hearts may not heal.

Conditional Relationships

In our modern lifestyles, success is paramount and the moment is forgotten.  We are striving to achieve.  It is bred into us from extra maths and ballet lessons at the age of 6 to the successful degrees we will achieve to the best job and the smartest car.  It can be a stressful life.  Our self-worth is conditional.  We are only judged to be enough, if we are that wall street banker, or the owner of the cool car, or if we wear the best labels.  And we document the journey to stardom in selfies that reflect an apparent barrenless existence. 

Perhaps we know how stressful it can be to be in relationship with someone on the off chance that they will make us feel better.  We work to make them happy.  Or make them feel proud of us.  And we do this, usually because we have – at some stage, been parented by someone (not necessarily a parent), who made us feel less than, and only worthy – on condition that… . 

Animals, according to popular theology – are there for our gain.  Does this theology infiltrate – even if we don’t buy into it?  Do we unconsciously buy into the need to control the creatures in our camps?  Does this cause a case of – do this – so I can prove my belief system about myself?  Then I can offer you a reward.  And only then.

This is a classic case of operant conditioning at its worst.  Do the behaviour to achieve the reward.  And it is all about the reward.  The relationship and care is forgotten in the process.

Is this what we are doing with the animals with which we work?  Sure we love them.  More than anything.  I love my sons too.  Yet remain stressed about their future, and put pressure on them to succeed.  To the point where they have acted out and told me – with true teenage actions – to back off.  This moment was a highlight for me.  It made me look at the relationships I have with animals too.  Because they are enough.  Just being the amazing animals that they are.  And I choose to be in relationship with them not to make them do flick flacks in the agility ring, or perform amazing feats of intelligence.  But because when I look into their eyes it feels like I am home.

I still need to ask the question – do I look into their eyes often enough for them to believe they are enough?  Do they equate me with care, or only with resources - food and attention rewards?  Do I create anticipation in them the moment they see me?  Or do they also feel like they have come home when we connect. 

Do I sit on the floor with my dog?  Do I spend time in the company of the animal I train without expectation?  Do I provide toys other than the norm?  Where they can investigate something novel?

Hard question for an animal trainer to reflect upon, but I believe one that is imperative.  Have we achieved enough of a balance?  Is their life enriched in our care?  Or are they acting out in a teenage frenzy because we have not provided effectively? Question always is – what would love do?  Answer?  Would be keen to know your response.


Tuesday, 11 October 2016


A week away in a foreign land. Where the interactions have been abundantly insightful and the lessons for me, once again, enormous. When teaching ethical communication with animals, one cannot help but reflect. Feel clear and ready to ensure my daily reality is refreshed.

So this a blog to thank the Czech Republic animal lovers. And to encourage other animal lovers out there to visit this generous place.

Imagine a place where dogs are allowed in the subways and busses. Where the city funds initiatives to teach school children how to effectively meet dogs on walks. Where every park space is always littered with people sharing moments with their best friends.  Where there are water bowls for dogs wherever you go. Even in the zoo. Where it is common that dogs are allowed to live in apartment buildings. Where I share a train cabin with two people and a dog. Where a family home visit includes a visit with dogs and cats. When in the middle of my seminar in the dog school we are interrupted when horses and dogs enter for a visit.

Imagine that! Where animals are an integral accepted norm in the society.

And it gets better. When you meet and have the good fortune to get to know  the people. And you realise that they are a community that is holistic. They are eager to learn anything that will help their relationships with their dogs. Humbly they share their stories and lessons. They respect each other and family values are paramount. Maternity leave is years long. Children are nurtured alongside the animals. The history is documented in light-hearted art -paintings, architecture and sculpture. Humour is common in these creations. As common as it is in daily conversation. Almost as common as the depictions of their animal friends in the ancient art.

The irony. I leave having learned more than I share. To be invited here is an honour. Everytime I visit I feel more honoured.

Dr Frantisek Susta is a remarkable man. He has introduced positive reinforce  training to Czech. To the zoos as well as domestic animal training. He is brave enough to question the norm.  This bravery means he even questions positive reinforcement.  He has published two books on the lessons he has learned. I look forward to the rest of the world learning from him. He is named after the patron saint of animals. And his commitment to the ethical treatment of animals makes him deserving of the name. He is also a committed family man. And there is no doubt that his children will follow in his  footsteps.  I have learned a great deal from him!!

He is a mirror of the people I have met and worked alongside in my travels to this beautiful place.

I feel grateful for this experience. And a little sad to leave. Czech Republic you have stolen a little of my heart. I take the possibility of a society like this back home with me. I feel inspired to be gentle. And true to what I believe
No compromises. Just joyful truth.

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Sage welcome home

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Home. With the best welcome ever

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Travelling wannabee

When I travel I feel free to look at the world differently. I pack clothes I don't usually wear. And wear earings from the bottom of my jewelry box and even apply make up now and then.  I choose to skip the evening ritual cigarette and will communicate information to friends and family that I usually would not share. 

I also find the odd moments where I experience stress. I will leave much earlier to catch a bus and a train than is necessary. Much much earlier. And when I am meeting with people my introvert heart hammer thuds in my ears. I consciously calm myself down. Search for what is familiar and easy. Break down what needs doing into steps. Work to avoid crazy anticipation angst.

What does this have to do with animals? Seasoned theorists may have noted some training lingo already.

This is my lesson. The animals in my life require adventure. Not once in a while. But everyday.  Just small incremental fun times where they get to experience something novel. Why?

Because the more familiar my experience, the more I am able to cope with change. I can happily catch a train in the Czech Republic on my own now. On my first visit every station name sounded like a completely impossible concept. I am relaxed on the journey and able to appreciate other aspects of this incredible place.

So. If the animals are experiencing something new from a place of comfort we are effectively increasing their comfort zone. That novel experience may become a part of its familiar. Which means they are more able to cope with whatever comes there way.

Sure we want them to feel secure. The suggestion is that for their true welfare a bit of a daily suprise is in order.

What will you do for your dog today? And tomorrow? And ...

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Share - for the sake of love

Consciousness is a lovely concept. After all a wise man reminded me this week that 'awareness is greater than...'

If we live and learn and work together we will stride ahead. Progress towards light living where people and animals commune closely. In love. Understanding. On a planet where defense is not necessary.

Danger enters when we try and own the wisdom. When we define ourselves according to how much responsibility we have. When,in relationship with animals, our identity is the relationship. Then we get stuck. We cannot see the animal and the animals needs. We are too on busy holding on so tight. Constricting the flow. Stopping the experience.  Hammering in on the moment and insisting it is ours. Claiming the fame. Feeling is charged in this state. Because control is an illusion. And identity an elusive idea. And we can never control what others think of us.  Desperate clinging. Fear-based sadness. A waste of energy.

And the alternative. Seeing the open-hearted potential. Noticing that the situation can be seen from so many perspectives. Remarking at the curiosity of the horse as he looks up at the new flower on the vine. Watching how the dolphin lends his ear to that brand new twinkling sound. Giggling at the puppy who rolls down the hill in her exuberant excitement at seeing the world. How when she gets anxious she pulls her ears back and darts inside.
Even more remarkable is when we share the stories. When we point them out to each other. Gifting the humans around us with that added perspective. And then taking that next step together. When we find new ways to enrich their lives. With maximum insight. And share that joy. And then we are able to work together in all our observations. For the best possible livelihood of the animals in our care.

So when my son delights at one of the ducks quirks or notices a limp in a chicken we can do what needs doing. When I chat to the groom about the horses personalities he can smile with me and understand.  Together we enrich to the maximum the potential for perfect welfare. The alternative. Taking full control. Because 'I think I know better.'
Arrogant mistake. That has the potential to cost lives.

There is no joy in a competitive adversarial world. Just insecure defense that is just unnecessary. A trial. A sentence in solitary.

Share the love. The more stimulus we can safely offer animals. Obviously in a successively approximated manner, the better adjusted they are. Science has proven that the more behavioural plasticity an animal has, the more fulfilled and adaptable it is.

Welfare must guide us. Time to put ego aside and do right. For the sake of love.

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Being right is a compromise. Looking, listening and doing what needs doing is the alternative

wisdom sans passion = empty words

So you can sprout wise words all you like.  You can be the guru and even be right most of the time.  But guess what?  The moment you live by the being right rather than the wisdom you sprout, you will stumble.
And of course, I am not talking about you.  I am talking about me.  And a special new teacher in my life.  A little girl called Sage.  As wise as her name and smarter than me.  Like all the critters I know.
And of course, once again, not only Sage, but every other guru beast I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Because she is simply teaching me the lessons I have not listened to from patient teachers who have spent time being real with me in the past.

So.  The lesson.  To do my passion.  Every moment.  Like my friend Craig here.  An inspiration like so many animal people I know.
In recent times I went on a journey of discovery.  Got stuck in my head.  So my time, as a result, has been filled with a waste of effort and a lack of animal contact time.  Lots of theory.  My hands are just far too clean.  Enter Sage.  Along with a few other changes in my life.
And I remember why I do what I do.  Nothing like a green animal to spend time alongside to remind me what drives me.  Those Doctor Doolittle moments when this new munchkin gets how I need her to behave so that she can fit into my menagerie.  Like when she puts on brakes while heading towards the pond when the goose looks at her sideways.  Or bobs her head sideways before Przzy the cat even thinks about swatting her.  Or how she shimmies up to Draco the dog, slowly, so she gains his warmth without antagonising him.  And how fast she learns in her training sessions.  Wow wow wow.  She thinks and works like she had done this all before.  And she is only 8 weeks old.
So yes.  I am not a spring chicken.  I have 10 maybe 15 years left in a McJob.  And I will not spend it in a McJob.  I will continue doing what I love.  Connecting with animals on a daily basis.  Animals I have seen being born who I adore.  Because – they are my family.  No distractions. 

Reckon I have been given one of these when I was born.My Destination - Animal land.  Wherever that will take me.  Because there is nothing more beautiful than talking to animals.  Nothing.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Control freak?

Love is - letting go of the outcome
Are you a control freak?  Do you train to control or do you do it because it is where there is an excuse not to be in control? (-:
Imagine that lion trainer forcing that circus lion into the corner with a whip and a chair.  Days of old.  Imagine that dog being yanked into position using a choke chain.  Hearts are cold.
Imagine the horse being spurred into a gallop and bitted into a stop.  Souls are sold.
These used to be accepted training methods.  In some instances, they still may be practised.
These are not what we consider training at all.  True training is something much more harmonious.  We have all dreamed of being Dr Doolittle.  Of talking to animals.  Truth be told – it’s possible.  Using true training. 
I love it when I hear new information about animal training.  When I am challenged to think in new ways.  I love to be challenged.  And I really love it when I notice that I am being challenged because then I know that objectivity is heading into the space.  Being challenged means that we are looking at it – more and more – from the animal’s point of view.
It is truly exciting when we learn to train for the first time.  Problem is, that most of us are taught to look at things from our point of view.  And this is vital.  Unless we know what tools we are applying, we are uncertain of what we are doing.  For example, negative reinforcement is not when the animal moves away from us.  It is when we move away from the animal.  If we think it is them doing the moving – then it is them doing the training.  Communication blurs.  Responses become reactive.Having said that – it should be us doing the training yes.  But it cannot happen if we are not aware.  Look.  See.  What is happening? – not just in if they are sitting or touching the ball or laying out the way you want them to, but – how is their attitude?  Are they anxious in that pose?  Complacent?  Are they thinking, or are you doing the thinking for them?  When we start to see this – the countenance – then things get real.  Then we have relationship!!
And when things get real, they get wonderful.  Because when we see this, we are starting to see the training from the animal’s point of view.  We are starting to let them choose their responses and we are simply guiding the process.
A good trainer is not a doer.  It is a guide.  Stepping aside and letting them move and choose – choose to be in relationship with a gem of a guide – who is having as much fun as they are.
PS.  Caution.  This does not mean do whatever and hope for the best.  All the lessons we learned are still valid.  Step by step.  Going back a step when things get unclear.  Focussing on what we want.  Etc etc.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

should they miss us? A tribute to Mhlaba

With the age of selfies, have we taken ‘being glorified’ to a whole new level?  It begs the question.
Am I in it for how I look in relationship with this animal?  Or am I in it because I care about this animal?  If the second is the answer – Share the love!!!  They can feel if you do.

I attended a funeral this weekend.  Of a man who worked with us for almost 14 years.  He was a trainer with the seals.  He had experience doing dog training too.  He was exceptional at what he did.  Unafraid, clear, calm and loving.  The words spoken at his funeral and memorial service earlier in the week all were testament to his amazingness.  We have lost a friend, a mentor, a peer, a steadfast incredible person.

He is a Zulu man.  And proud of his culture.  It is a culture I am familiar with because of where I live, but I am certainly no expert.  I do find something quite significant about the Zulu funerals, and this is that they honour the man who has passed, but they are also unashamedly able to express their own personal sadness at his passing.  My experience of western cultures is that we feel the need to only honour our loved ones.  We almost feel unworthy of expressing or sometimes even feeling our own feelings.  (See my emo post) 

I have written a few blogs recently about animals that have left our realm.  I have done similarly in those blogs – honour the incredible souls that they are.  And felt unworthy of expressing my own sadness and attachment. 

But this is not what this blog is about.

It is about the animals that are left behind.  Our friend Mhlaba leaving us is also felt by the animals that he trained.  For a while they will behave differently.  His passing was sudden.  There was no possibility to prepare the animals for his loss.

A reminder that we always have to work with the animals we care for as though we are leaving at any point.  Maybe not even for the long term.  When we leave our dogs in the care of another - are they okay with that?  How can we teach them to be okay with that?

A sign of a truly unconditional human being is one who is able to share the privilege of loving an animal with as many people as possible.  This requires us to mentor others in – not only the communication theory with that particular animal, but also the heart and care – let them fall in love with each other. 

It was once said to me that we cannot love one person or animal more than another.  All that is in the way of love is our stories about the other.  Love in essence is the absence of those stories.  Joy in being in relationship is about the freedom to enjoy that relationship – no strings attached.

Our friend was a master mentor.  He shared the love.  Thank you Mhlaba for the lesson.  For your diligence.  For your clear thinking care.  Hlabathi, Illanga, Mobi – all the seals are richer for having had you in their lives.  I am sure they will miss you – just because you are incredible.  However you are supported by an incredible team who will continue to care as you did – for the greater good.

RIP dear angel soul

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Celebrating Gambit

He recently won the Paaza ambassador animal award. He is 45 years old. So honoured to know him and his family. Blessed too by the fact that he is so loved and loveable. All 480kgs. 

Really look to see

imagine painting this picture.  Look at the water light....

We really really need to look to see.  Pay attention.

Had some wonderful lessons recently on this.  First from the all time guru teacher Frodo.  I was busy teaching her to move backwards to a cue.  Basically reverse.  You need to know that Frodo sees and experiences life in much more detail than most of the other dolphins we teach.  And this has led trainers, in the past, to believe she is not very smart.  The truth is - she is way smarter than all of us combined.

When asking her to reverse, she was getting the concept quite nicely.  Then in a session she suddenly began puffing out during the behaviour.  I knew I had not unwittingly reinforced the behaviour of puffing.  But it seemed that she was becoming a little frustrated that I was not acknowledging the puff.  I watched a fellow trainer work with Frodo later in the day - fortunately - because then I saw why the puff.  My colleague was teaching Frodo to blow bubbles in the water, and to get this right, setting her in the exact same body posture as I had been setting her for the reverse.  So, we could easily have confused her and given up on her - 'because she is not that smart' (-: (-:

Truth - if she had failed we were the problem.

And this usually is the truth

I recently took up painting as a hobby.  I am currently painting Frodo.  I have looked at her delightful face for nearly 30 years.  And yesterday when I was painting her I saw, for the first time, that she has dark colouration at the base of her rostrum.  Now it is obvious.  But I have never seen it before.

I was playing with a dolphin called Zulu the other day.  She was following me around the area.  I noticed that at one points she would do an odd movement in the wrong direction.  She was playing, and not confused or worried.  It was only when I really looked that I noticed that she was actually playing with my shadow - not with my presence outside the water.

So how do we learn to see. 

I personally think - it takes a sense of humour. 

If you really are not attached to the outcome of the game with the animal's in your life - if you really are able to just play - you will see. 

Every time I have the goal alone  in mind - I go blind.

Goals are customised with journeys that need to be lived and enjoyed.
Else why bother doing this. 

We only have now after all.  That is the only real truth.

Thank God for dolphins

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Emo animal people

What provides liberty to do our jobs as animal trainers?  The difference between what is required and what the professional industry expects, is real.  When we are employed as animal keepers, we are told to leave emotion out of the equation.  Or we are criticised for being too emotional.  Our careers are halted because we feel too much. 

Heck, many of us don't even want to go further.  We just want to work with the animals.  Also, there are some really good animal people out there who also make exceptional managers - and why?  Because they not afraid to feel. 

Problem.  Promoted animal managers manage intuitively.  Doing what they do and ensuring that stuff gets done - because the welfare of the animals is the cause.  More than that, intuition is well developed in a good animal trainer.  So they know how to feel what needs doing.  And this does not seem to be the accepted management technique.  So we are sent on management courses...  To put us in a box and teach us to fall in line.  Stop feeling.

Scientifically it is not possible to be intuitive unless you feel. 

In the normal run of the mill management circles there are strict rules.  
Rule number 1:  Be objective - at all costs. 
Rule number 2:  Don't let emotions cloud your judgement.

Funny story that.  Because you cannot know whether emotions are clouding your judgement unless you are feeling them and recognising them consciously.  And if you don't allow yourself to feel them, you will loose touch.  Not only with the people you are managing - but sadly, also with the animals you care about. 

Because as any true scientist will tell you - the ability to be completely objective is impossible.

In truth - rules rob us of our ability to be true.  Because we give ourselves away to rules and no longer make sound judgements.  We use rules to control, so cannot feel anything except whether we are winning or losing.  Competition sets in and our egos take over.

There is a better way.  Just feel.  This keeps you conscious.  and helps you to see what needs doing.  I long for the management lesson that animals teach - that it is okay to feel.  Just be conscious.  And work on that ability.  To the point where you can truly see - so when you feel, it is just guidance as opposed to a reaction.If we have learned anything as animal trainers, it is this.  Because when we are being guided we are able to move through our communication with the animals that we care about.  And the reason why we do - because we care about them.

This is a picture of one of my greatest teachers.  Her name is Frodo.  Frodo's rule - feel and be right here, or go play in the traffic.  What an honour to know and be taught by her.  Over and over.  Just when I think I have learned the lesson I sit in front of her and realise again that I am distracted from her when she looks at me sideways and backs away. 

The ultimate Zen master(-:  Just feel...  And for her - the feeling is BIG LOVE AND RESPECT!