Friday, October 17, 2014

"The Mind of a Cat"

I was in the check-out line at the grocery store the other day when a magazine caught my eye: "The Animal Mind:  What They're Thinking and Feeling, and How to Understand Them."  I grabbed the book edited by Jeffrey Kluger and published by Time magazine and perused the Table of Contents.  The subjects were varying, scientific, but, better yet, offered answers to questions I've had about animals all my life.  I had to buy it.

This is a "must-buy" for all animal lovers.  Among lots of subjects are "Do animals have minds, as well as brains?" The book discusses grief in animals, their social behaviors, ways animals talk to each other and to us, animal rights, mental illness in animals, and why people feel the way they do about some species of animal.  For example, why do most people dislike rats but love dogs?  This is a scientific, enlightening book for everyone with a questioning mind and a cat in one's lap, or a dog, or a lizard, or a bird.  Or a rat.

One of the reasons people seem to prefer dogs over cats is because dogs have been selectively bred by humans for a longer time than have cats, which have only been bred for the last 150 years.  Instead of being bred for their work ethic or productive exploitation, as with farm animals, cats have been bred mostly for their looks.  Perhaps this is why cats seem wilder to us than dogs.

Anyway, as I read further into the chapter entitled, "Inside the Mind of a Cat" by Temple Grandin, she claims that cats are harder to train because, not only are they further down the list on those species most domesticated by man, but they have retained most of their wild nature, in contrast to the dog, for example.  So, a cat in one's house behaves similarly to a lion in the wild.  Cats, therefore, can only be trained using positive reinforcement, not negative.  Using negative reinforcement on a cat will make them fearful and respond by attacking.  Being more wild, however, doesn't preclude cats' social natures, for, indeed, cats are quite social amongst themselves and persons they live with.  Wild animals are the ultimate existentialists: behaving and doing things because it's "the nature of the beast," or simply because they feel they need to do something in order to exist.  Therefore, when they act existentially, which most do, people interpret that behavior as stand-offfish or independent.  Rather than their making a concerted effort to be contrary, however, cats are independent because of their wild streaks. 

Another point Grandin makes is that people are socially closer to the species of dogs: dogs create families as humans do, and they communicate like people with facial expressions and through the visual.  Their "speech" is variable, too--sound that people can easily interpret.  Not only can people "read" dogs, but dogs can "read" people well, too.

I disagree with Grandin when she says cats do not have expressive faces, largely because they lack eyebrows used for expression.  My cats all had and have expressive faces; one just had to recognize the glint of happiness in the eye, the drop of moisture on the grinning lips.  But such ability to interpret cats comes naturally to cat ladies like me and people who keep close company with the feline.  Grandin recommends that the novice of cats look more at the body stance of a cat than at his or her face in order to discover meaning and feeling.

Grandin gets a few things wrong in this article--from my perspective.  And I'm not an animal behaviorist--just a cat lady with a few thousand cats trying to occupy my lap at any one time.  I'm kidding.  I have just a few hundred, at most.  Kidding again. :).  She claims that cats seem like autistic children because they are not very sociable and because they have blank faces.  She also says that cats don't "read" people well.  Mine read me just fine--like a book, in fact. 

Grandin says cats have just as good a sense of smell as dogs and so a cat's preferred method of communicating is through smell: peeing on things and making more subtle smelly deposits from the paws and the glands along the jaw--smells we humans can't detect. 

What I found most interesting in this article is that coat color can be associated with purr-sonality in the cat.  Actually, it's probably true with horses, as well: black horses are widely known amongst horse trainers as being spookier and harder to deal with.  Having said that, however, my black horse, Lola, is more level-headed than my spotted horse, Bo.  Go figure.  But, with the cat, a black coat is more laid-back, friendlier, better able to deal with city-life, and can play well with others in a cattery.  Overall, black cats are more social.  In contrast, Grandin says the orange male cats are more aggressive and shier.  Orange cats are scaredy-cats.  Of course, Grandin offers a disclaimer that individual cats can be bolder or shier, social or unsocial, regardless of color. 

When adopting a cat, look for a black one, one that approaches you when you appraoch its cage. If the cat allows a person to hold him, that's a winner, and if he plays, he's good, too.  If someone acqures a tiny kitten, it's imperative to begin petting and holding him or her by two weeks of age because the best period for socialization of a kitten is week two to week seven.  After this the kitten is more likely to be feral.  Being handled a lot by different people will cause a kitten to be very friendly toward people.

So, here's the information I found useful from this chapter by Temple Grandin.  I can't wait to read more of this book and share my thoughts with you again.

I just wanted to mention that black cats, as well as black dogs, are those that are put to sleep first in shelters because people aren't attracted to them,  Perhaps more people ought to read Grandin's article because she says black cats are the best choices.  Interesting.

Does anyone have any thoughts on the black cat thing?  I'd love to have feedback on this subject.


Sunday, August 31, 2014


Did I really have to wait 62 years to discover that a person never really needs a vacation, that all he or she needs to do is experience a different realm in order to escape the daily routine of life?  It's true: that was a discovery I made just a few days ago.  Since then this word "realm" has been going round and round in my head.

I don't mean to be sounding philosophical when I analyze this idea of realms; I would just like people to be aware of them so that it doesn't take them 62 years, as it did me, to realize that enjoying a realm, on any level, can substitute for entertainment or escapism.

Let me be more specific.

I define a "realm" as a space, place, or time--a mini world--that somehow transports a person from his or her daily routine and offers refreshment, entertainment, and a sense of difference that gives a breath of renewal.  For some people, a realm can be as simple as visiting a hospital.  One walks through the hospital doors and is immediately ushered into a totally different "universe": doctors and nurses scuttling about, that certain chemical smell pervading the atmosphere, a sense of hurry, urgency.  In those minutes we find ourselves in this different space, we are taken out of our normalness, perhaps even out of our comfort zone.  But it really doesn't matter if the realm of the hospital takes us out of our normal ease of living just as long as it takes us--period.  Eventually we will come home and be back in our comfortable groove.  But the effect will have been that, for some moments, we will have escaped ourselves and "visited" another realm.  That is good for us.

I have been particularly observant of the different realms existing around me: ones that I enjoy being a part of of; ones I'm impressed with and wish I could be a part of on a daily basis; and ones that are so different and exciting that I am almost unworthy of their experiences.  Of those realms I am just tickled to enjoy a few moments, like scuba diving among tropical fishes and sharks.  I would guess that, for most people, vacations to different countries qualify as realms.

As I said, these realms make us feel different when we are in them; they make us feel special, if only for a few moments.  But they all offer renewal, rejuvenation, education.

Realms that I have experienced of late are the following: walking a wooded trail, making my way to teach on the campus of Lehigh Carbon Community College amongst hordes of students trundling to class.  Being in the classroom teaching is another realm for me since I am an adjunct and only experience it two days a week.  Other realms for me--as individual for me as for anyone else--are experiencing and participating in a horse show; visiting Ross Mill Farm and Piggy Camp (a rescue for pot-bellied pigs); going to a concert; eating outside at River Walck Saloon; fishing by a creek; experiencing the beach at Sandy Hook Park in NJ; wine-tasting in the Finger Lakes; being at a courthouse and in a courtroom.

Literally, a realm is a microcosm, a tiny world, in which those people residing inside unfathomably regard their life inside, not as a realm, but as ho-hum daily life.  They regard their realm as common, unexciting to them--routine.  But experiencing their realm is not boring to me.  A realm is a different world from the one I own.  It's exciting, different, transporting.  A realm affords meeting different people of different nationalities, different interests, different talents.  It's a different space with different goals, interests, and ambitions from mine.  It's most certainly a different place from what I'm used to.  A realm shares itself and its people or animals or whatever with me so that I can learn, enjoy, and feel renewed by it.  A realm is something one needs to open himself up to, or the learning experience could slip away, unappreciated.

Here are more realms--for me: a casino, a zoo, a traffic jam, canoeing on a lake, sleeping overnight anywhere but one's own home.  Around here I feel transported--on a temporary vacation--when I visit the Lehigh Valley Zoo, when I walk wooded trails, when I visit the Sands Casino (that is really a different kind of realm, isn't it?).  What some people believe is just their work, I consider an enlightening realm: the Kabota showroom; being in a church, a library, an assisted living or nursing home; riding the Strasburg railroad; visiting an Amish farm; going to a fair, festival, a fireworks display.

These realms take me away: by their looks, their smells, the special noises going on there.  All that makes me feel different and a little on edge, "up" or "down" is what I call a realm.  It's an experience, whether negative or positive, and its renews and allows me to learn and, therefore, grow.  It's starting a new job; it's going on a vacation; it's shopping at a totally new and dazzling place; it's meeting people who share same interests in a common world which I am only allowed to visit momentarily but whose visit enlightens.

Enough, now, about realms.  Recognize them; appreciate them; and grow from their experience.  Without them life is a dullard merely trudging along--minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.  The realm is a spark in the dark.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Duwee Lives On

A dear piggy Facebook friend--yes, a pig--died three days ago and left so many people around the globe feeling empty and heartbroken. Thousands of people, mostly those who have developed a love for the porcine species, myself among them, are in mourning because Duwee Russell Lupton, a Kunekune miniature pet pig who lived in the English countryside, is no longer able to cheer us with his simple barnyard pleasures and his calm, positive personality.

Facebook is a funny creature that most of us who use it appreciate and like--at times-- and, at other times, find very annoying.  People quibble about politics; they complain about their jobs; they brag about their leisure activities and love lives that make the rest of us feel as though we have no lives at all.  At other times they are happy, celebratory, and content, but, often, Facebook friends tend to be happy, well: "not so much."

Whenever a post rolled onto my Newsfeed from Duwee, however, I turned to read it instead of scrolling to another entry.  Duwee always, always made me feel good, positive, appreciative of being alive, no matter what was bothering me.  He was a pig, after all, who led a simple life alongside Poppy, then Lilli, his chickens, and a goat, and he reported happily and most every day about his Lilli pig who seemed always to be getting into trouble at home, though he related the story with amusement every time. And if one of his barnyard friends died, Duwee took the event courageously, vowing to meet his brother or sister when, at last, he, too, journeyed over the Rainbow Bridge.

And now he has.

Of course, I realize that the voice of Doo, as he was affectionately known among his Facebook friends, actually came from his human mom, Sue, and his dad, Dave.  It was mostly Sue, I believe, who spoke for Duwee.  Duwee's, or Sue's, voice was the voice of kindness, acceptance: one of not taking a simple farm life, or any life, however one lives it, for granted.  With each post I could look to Doo for comfort, for contentment, for positive thinking, for acceptance.  All of us--his friends--looked forward to sharing in Doo's barnyard adventures.  And we were sad when he had problems with his feet and began to age and have seizures.  Most of us have been following Doo for ten years or so.  To us, Duwee was a daily presence--a bandaid on our lives' wounds--and a soothing voice that subtlely urged us to appreciate and get back to nature, her animals, and the earth he so lovingly turned over and over with his nose.  Duwee's voice, without saying so in words, saw the joy, through technology, of turning away from technology: our cell phones, computers, Facebook, even, and living in the simple, precious moment of a fellow creature, whether it be a person or an animal.  He encouraged the simple life, love, appreciation of others, especially for pigs and other pets.  He was an emotional, supportive force that kept all of us pig people on the right track, the honest track of real life, earthy life.

What will we all do without Doo?  What will we all do without his mom, Sue, speaking through us--guiding us to appreciate and be joyful for each day, each slice of watermelon, every grape, and succulent morsel we bring to our lips?

The best we can do is live up to the legacy of Duwee Russel Lupton.  We can live as though we are all little Doos: joyfully participating in life in all its riches, its flavors, its animals, its nature.  Duwee would have us all wallow happily in life, as he did--not complain, not wish away our workdays, not whine about traffic jams or department store lines.

Duwee would have us lying in the sun, soaking up the warmth and smiling, feeling the good heat on our skin.  He would have us relishing each meal as if it were our last one.  He would have us enjoying a spider building its intricate net across a doorway.  He would have us content, calm, accepting.  Duwee would have us be like him: always positive, always looking forward to the next day, the next experience in our human "banyards."   And he would always have us wearing a crazy hat--evidence of his humor and enthusiasm for life.

I surely will miss seeing and hearing about Duwee Russell Lupton's antics on Facebook, but he taught me well.  I will try, despite my tendency to err because I am only human and quite flawed, to carry on Doo's legacy of positiveness and enthusiasm for living.  I will try to complain and judge less.  I will enjoy more walks in nature, not kill a spider simply because it walks.  I will be "Doo for a Day"--not simply a day, but for most of my life.

Thank you, Sue and Dave, for giving us so much through Duwee.  You both know Duwee lives on in each of us, his Facebook fans, and we will try our best to mirror his outlook on life.

Thank you.
Gay Balliet

Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer on the Farm from Stewie's Perpspective

Stewie is one of my dachshunds--my black with brown points, long-haired doxie.  He's about a year old, and in that year has come to love the adventures on my farm.  He loves most everything about it, except for the ticks and fleas, which his mommy has found a remedy for, finally.  Anyway, here's a bit about how Stewie and his cohort sister, Annie Mae, view life on the farm.

"It's a new day: things to do, places to go.  Who cares about breakfast as long as I see the outside and get to go potty at 6 AM?  I wonder what mommy and sis and I are going to do today, but first I must check the manure pile for tasty horse turds.  Come on, Annie!  Hurry up!  There's a big juicy one on the pile this morning!

"Mommy's picking weeds in the garden, thinning the carrots, admiring the huge red beets, the mounds of lettuce, and rows of onions, beans, cabbages, and garlic.  I love to lie under the tomato plants, tree-sized just for me.  I help mommy by digging huge holes next to the zinnia path in the vegetable garden.  There's very good evidence that badgers reside here, and I need to protect the family.


"Annie!  Let go!  We can't both be playing with one stick!  And we live in a woods, so you can get your own!
Anyway, now that mommy's done in the garden and is weeding the vinca in front of the house, we can take a nap in the shade of the old golf cart.  I don't know why she doesn't want to play with our stick, but she's so focused on pulling weeds she doesn't seem to want to play.  I even brought her a branch more her size.  We can never roam far because she seems to instinctively know when we are on the scent of a squirrel, and then she hollers at us.  And once I tried chasing a cat, and, well, that didn't go over very well.  I sat in the house the rest of the day, and I don't like to be in the house.  I'd rather be outside.  My sister, Annie Mae, doesn't mind very well, so I must lead her back to the house from time to time so that mommy doesn't worry.

"Mommy looks so tired.  Normally she's very pretty, but after a day working on the farm, her hair is matted, and her fingernails are stained with dirt.

"She eats her salad in my big black chair in the living room, and she's watching this black box on the wall that talks and has people inside it.  It's a very weird thing.  She gets very upset and yells when this one guy comes into the box and starts talking and swiveling his head from side to side.  And his ears are even bigger than mine.  She sounds like she's screaming 'MAMA!" but he doesn't look anything like my mama.  I don't often see my mommy that angry--except when I chew the squeaky ball out of my new toy.  After mommy calms down and that man is out of the black box, Annie and I try to look pathetic and starving as she puts forkful after forkful of food in her mouth.  If I try to lick her plate, she barks at me.  I know she is as possessive of her food as I and Annie Mae are.  I better back off before she begins to growl.

After Annie and I eat our meals, we climb into mommy's lap.  She cuddles with us, but I can tell she likes me better than Annie Mae.  She talks to me in a low calm voice, and I cradle myself in her arms while Annie licks her face.  Sometimes, when Annie licks her, she yells.  I don't know why, but then she frantically rubs her lips and spits like one of the house cats.  Yet, through it all, I know she loves us because she shows her teeth, and her lips are drawn back, the corners raised.

Soon after mommy takes her bath, she will ask us to "Kennel up," and we will be so obedient and climb into our crates for the night.  I'm actually glad to abide because I'm doggone tired from all that weeding in the garden.  Whoever said a dog's life was easy was dead wrong--we dachshunds have it 'ruff, ruff, ruff' living on a farm where we must play and sleep all day long.

So, people, I will see you in da morning!"

Friday, February 28, 2014

The White Void

With a foot of snow and ice on the ground and a supposed twelve more inches coming this weekend, I have planted my garden seeds--all sex flats of them--in anticipation of spring and summer.  They sit, ready and filled with water, waiting to burst forth into seedlings.  Then, when I see the first appearance of cabbage, basil, cilantro, tomatoes, squashes, and red beets I will know there's hope.  .

While the snow looks beautiful as it falls, the after effects are daunting--our footing precarious, driving treacherous, spending unnecessary monies for plowing the driveway, buying way-too-expensive fuel oil, keeping all the animals warm and safe.  As well, my horses haven't ventured out into the far-out pastures: too icy even for four-footed ones that weigh a thousand pounds.  Oh, God: deliver us from this misery, they seem to be thinking as they stand outside in the only ray of warm sunshine--a prelude of spring, wherever she may be hiding.

So, I make this entry with bits of seed soil under my fingernails, and I hope that, somehow, this nasty storm while spare us.  But if it doesn't, I will tend my seeds tucked comfortably into their soil, spray a fine mist over them, talk to them hoping that they can hear and may put extra effort into germinating and giving me a ray of hope in this dismal white world.

Everyone keep warm and safe.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I could wring Death around her shriveled black neck for torturing my friends and me without remorse, without consideration, without reason.  It seems she, or is it a he, randomly takes our human and pet friends, willy-nilly, from us--as though she's entertaining herself or trying to remind us all when we are having a "good run" in life that we shouldn't get too enthusiastic because she's right around the corner ready to spring another attack on us.

Death is the grand spoiler.  She interrupts, spoils, disrupts, and shocks.  She is the ultimate Shock Jock.  And I hate her.  We all hate her.

Recently she stole my Ricky cat, and I can smell her hovering over my two old, arthritic horses.  And, who knows?  She may even have her vacuous eye on me as I drive, as I shop, as I sleep.  One never knows when or where the spoiler will next appear.

Just two days ago she came to my friend, Mare's, house and stole her cat, Meg--Mare's best buddy for 20 years and 4 months.  She came stealthily, leaving little signs for months, like mouse turds in a cabinet, that she had an eye on Meg.  As Meg's appetite grew slimmer and slimmer, Mare knew Death was stalking her friend.  She did all she could do to stave off the rancid devil, but she showed up for an overnight visit the other night.

And that was the end of Meg.

I post Meg's picture here so that not only my friends can appreciate Mare's cat for her loyalty, her affectionate nature, her lust for life, but also so that Death can see it too, if she's on Facebook, Twitter, or reads my blogs.  I want Death to know that she fails in so many ways.  She fails because we all have the ability to remember our loved ones and pass on their memory to others who may remember and pass it on to still others.  She fails because in our various ways, many of us prepare memorials to the one who she's taken from us and, therefore, keep that dead one alive.  She fails because, through science and good medicine, we mortals can often hold her back until she comes at us with a vengeance.  She fails because we eventually triumph over our misery.

Death, you loser, Be Not Proud!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tough Times This Winter

As everyone knows, winter has beaten most of us down with all her snow, ice, and frigid temperatures. I'm not whining--just stating facts sure to show up on a Gallup poll.   The falling snow ceased looking wondrous to me weeks ago. Most of us are about done in after paying excruciatingly high fuel oil prices and paying the guys to plow out our driveway.  And many of us, including myself, have fallen on ice.  My ankle and thigh still sport a lovely oil-slick purple bruise. We are winter-poor and winter-weary these days.

As I sit here trying to fight my way through Twitter and Facebook--I'm of an older generation that has to learn social media by the hit-or-miss method--the deer are gathering outside my window for my meager offering of corn.  Yes, I feed the deer; they've had it rough this winter, too.  Their life is difficult--way more than mine, I guess--having to avoid getting shot by hunters in deer season and now by poachers in non-deer killing season, bedding down in the pouring, freezing rain, and having to nourish themselves when most of their food is under two feet of snow.  And their water sources are frozen-over, forcing them to cross dangerous highways to travel down to the river.  It's not an easy life.  So, I've begun to try to make their lives just a bit easier by putting out corn.

Every evening around this time the herd approaches, stealthily--never at ease, never able to thoroughly enjoy a meal in peace and quiet as I do.  No, the deer are constantly on edge, fidgety--they know to watch for two-leggeds with guns, cars, and bad intentions.

What they don't know is that I do not, or ever will, carry a gun to kill them.  I am their feeder, their nourisher.  I just hope to fill their bellies and make one afternoon a bit easier for them.