We all want to provide a happy life for our animals—after all, they’re special members of our family. A good start is to provide clean water, healthy food, a warm bed, toys and socialization. But are you feeding and nurturing their hearts and spirits? Are you harnessing the joyous power of now?
Even more important than the basics to ensure your animal’s happiness is to develop a relationship based on mutual trust, respect and shared peaceful presence, which is something animals are great at teaching. Watch what your animal is telling you by his behaviors; listen to your heart to help you savor moments when your animal is truly blissful; and meditate with your animal to help you connect more deeply and strengthen your bond with each other. Your animal will respond in amazing, contented ways to your new mindful attitude. In turn, the happier your animal is, the more joy will radiate in your own life!
Read on for the top signs your cat, dog, horse, lizard, bird or bunny truly is happy. Taking time each day to stop, open your heart and share mindful, meditative moments with him will increase these behaviors and ensure a happy animal. I’ve written many sample meditations you can share with your animal to bring peace and contentment.
A happy cat:
Is playful and curious.
Lies on his back with tummy exposed, and rests with paws tucked.
Nudges you with the crown of her head or her nose, or rubs her body against your legs.
Is welcoming when they see you.
Puts his tail up when saying “hello.”
Gives happy meows.
Does “the long blink” when you look at them across the room.
Kneads biscuits on you when you cuddle them.
Shows interest in what’s going on around her and the environment.
Grooms and licks.
Drools on you.
Follows you everywhere.
A happy dog:
Has relaxed ears.
Wags his tail enthusiastically.
Stands or sits with a playful or relaxed body posture.
Gives slurpy kisses.
Spends most of the day exploring, playing with toys, walking around and doing things.
Asks for attention.
Shows enthusiasm for their favorite things: snacks, walks, when you return home, etc.
A happy horse:
Is relaxed with floppy ears.
Has sparkly eyes.
Walks with a spring in his step.
Perks his ears forward in a friendly greeting, as if to say, “Hi, it’s so great to see you today!”
Holds his head up and looks around.
Enjoys horse toys and companionship.
IGUANA OR BEARDED DRAGON
A happy lizard:
Eats well and has a full tummy.
Lives in a clean environment.
Goes willingly to you (a sign of trust).
Has space to climb and a large enclosure.
Likes new sights and smells. Consider taking your iguana for a walk outside on a leash.
Has happy vocalizations: singing, soft chattering, talking, whistling.
Purrs, especially when paired with a relaxed body stance and fluffed feathers.
Preens her feathers (and tries to preen you).
Perches on a single foot.
Plays games with you, like “peek-a-boo.”
Regurgitates her food for you (you’re welcome).
Wags his tail, much like a dog.
Is alert and uses her assortment of toys, chews, perches, mirrors (assuming she likes mirrors).
A happy bunny:
Rolls on her side and relaxes with her eyes closed.
Lies down with his head flat on the ground (an invitation for pets).
Grooms herself to stay clean and shiny.
Shows off with “binkies”—meaning, he runs and jumps and twists mid-air.
If these signs don’t seem as prevalent as they should be in your animal, and you’re seeing negative behaviors instead, it’s probably time to schedule a vet appointment. Here are some general warning signs to watch for, which may be signal illness or depression:
Over-grooming: Chewing skin, pulling fur, licking paws too much, chewing on paws
Changes in eating habits: overeating or eating less
Reluctant to play or go for walks; general inactivity
Negative changes in potty routines
A bearded dragon who has turned his beard black
A horse that holds his head down, kicks the stall or paws the floor, shows signs of aggression or flashes his teeth when you approach
Destructive dogs that chew on your couch or shoes instead of their toys
A panting bird or a bird that sits on the bottom of the cage
Although the above warning signs may on the surface seem obvious, sometimes in our busy lives, although we may be taking care of the basics with our animals, we often forget to stop and check in with the deeper levels of feelings our animals may be having. Sometimes we are just too busy to just be with our animals. Learning to slow down and spend time sharing the present moment with the animals we love can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary—each and every day!
How do your animals respond when you slow down and remember to savor the moment with them?
The words we choose to use send powerful messages out into this world. The words we choose to use when discussing animals are no different. Subconscious associations and assumptions are made in split seconds, based on words spoken and written. And the language the world at large uses when talking about animals is often maligning.
Some say the terminology regarding animals doesn’t matter, and that the accepted terms should remain just that. But when you see how heated the issue can become—then you see that yes, indeed, it does matter. Here are five common animal terms used in our society that really ruffle my feathers:
ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST Use instead: animal welfare activist
Though the terms “animal rights” and “animal welfare” are not exactly interchangeable, the influential Associated Press came out earlier this year with this change to its Stylebook, the go-to guide journalists refer to when writing articles. I prefer “animal welfare” to “animal rights” and like this change for many reasons: For one, because “animal rights,” in our society, has developed such a negative connotation to it, painting compassionate individuals involved in the humane movement as extremists. And two, because “animal welfare” is a broader, generic term that isn’t emotionally loaded. Bravo, AP—and hopefully more of the population will come around to using “welfare” instead of “rights,” too.
PET Use instead: animal or companion animal
The vocabulary we use is so often derogatory to animals, diminishing that special relationship we share with our cat, dog, horse or other. “Pet” is a perfect example of this. The word communicates the old-school view (that is still commonly held, unfortunately) that animals are lesser creatures, and simply property to be owned. I find “animal” or “companion animal” to be more dignified. My animals are not just family—they are sentient beings, too, and they deserve better. The Journal of Animal Ethics agrees: In 2011, the publication released a fascinating and controversial article discussing this very idea—that we should be careful in the language we use to describe animals. (If only “companion animal” were a little less clunky-sounding.)
OWNER Use instead: caregiver
Related to “pet” above, the term “owner” communicates the idea that animals are merely pets or property—not the special beings that we are fully committed to caring for and loving. Additionally, I prefer “caregiver” over terms such as “guardian” because it clearly conveys the emotional component of our relationship (vs. describing it in a cold and legal-sounding way).
IT Use instead: he or she
Let’s be honest, our special dog or cat—even if neutered or spayed—is not an “it.” Yet so many animals are referred to as “it.” In the first scientific paper she ever wrote, Jane Goodall used “he” and “she” instead of “it” to describe the chimpanzees—to much backlash. Kudos to Goodall for refusing to buckle under pressure and change, and also for promoting the groundbreaking idea that animals are emotional creatures worthy of our empathy and respect.
STRAY Use instead: lost
When homeless animals need adoption, which word makes them sound more adoptable, “stray” or “lost”? Exactly. Calling animals strays conjures up images of beastly creatures with matted fur that no one wants. But change the word to “lost”—now you create a new, positive image of a loved animal needing a new home. Or an animal who has lost his home, and needs help finding his way back. For tips on how to reunite lost animals with their human caregivers, check out the Missing Pet Partnership.
What about you? Do you feel comfortable calling your animal a pet? Why or why not? What other animal terms do you think need updating?
Every time I see a black-and-white sheltie dog, I think of my first dog Muffett. She was the best! We did everything together as kids. But we didn’t just play together. Looking back, I realize now that she was an amazing teacher who also taught me many important life lessons. I just didn’t know it at the time! (When learning is fun, you don’t even see it happening.) And now with my own daughter, Indigo, I can see her, too, starting to draw important lessons from spending time with our dog and horses. I’ve come to believe that animals truly are influential teachers for children—and I wish every child had the opportunity to grow up alongside an animal. Here are three key life lessons kids learn from spending time with animals—either their own dog or cat, or by spending time with homeless animals at a shelter or in a classroom setting:
1. Compassion. Kids who grow up with animals understand that animals have feelings, too, and that helps to foster compassion, love and kindness toward both animals and people. Children learn to have empathy for a pet that is hurting—and they also come to realize they are much bigger than the animal, so they have to be very careful or the animal might get hurt. These lessons in kindness and sensitivity then translate to friends at school and people they encounter in the world as they grow up.
2. Responsibility. Kids who grow up with a cat, dog or hamster in the home learn the importance of feeding and grooming the animal, as well as how vital it is for the animals to have a clean bed to sleep on and clean water to drink. Managing these various tasks really teaches kids lessons in time-management and responsibility. Indigo is now of an age where she can help me feed, clean up after and take our dog, Mystic, on walks.
3. Respect and acceptance. Anyone who grows up with a cat in the house learns fast about respect—respect the cat’s boundaries (and be gentle and kind!), or you’ll get scratched. Animals are also influential teachers when it comes to teaching diversity about race. Cats, dogs, guinea pigs and so on come in all shapes and colors and sizes—and children learn firsthand that the animals really aren’t that different based on how they look. The same idea holds true when an animal is injured or disabled; kids learn that the cat with three legs is just like the cat with four—which ultimately leads children to have open hearts toward those who might be in a wheelchair or have other physical challenges.
What important life lessons did you learn from animals when you were a child?
I find TED Talks so inspirational and powerful; don’t you? I think what I like best (besides the amazing speakers) is that I learn something new each and every time I watch one. (Sometimes they even blow my mind!) So in case you haven’t seen these particular lectures yet, here are four of my favorite TED Talks for animal lovers:
1. Ian Dunbar: Dog-friendly dog training Veterinarian, dog trainer and animal behaviorist Ian Dunbar says, “When we train, we always try to take in the dog’s point of view.” Dunbar’s passionate about stopping the disrespect and abuse of dogs at the hands of owners with “horrendous interaction skills” who make terrible mistakes when attempting to train them. The talk, which starts out with helpful dog-training tips, eventually segues into the idea that humans and dogs aren’t so different after all—that the respect, love and patience you should give an animal to “train” them can also be used when raising children and managing the important relationships in your life.
2. Jane Goodall: How humans and animals can live together I’ve shared before that iconic chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall is my hero. It is so interesting here to hear her talk about how her community projects—such as TACARE (Take Care), which helps people in African villages develop empowerment and improve their standard of living—actually end up helping habitats and conservation efforts, too. She also discusses the planet’s environmental problems, but makes it clear she has so much hope for nature, humanity and endangered species. Goodall says, “We are part of, and not separated from, the amazing animals with whom we share the planet.”
3. Denise Herzing: Could we speak the language of dolphins? I absolutely love dolphins and am fascinated by their intelligence and social nature. Denise Herzing studies dolphin communication in the wild, and in her TED Talk, she reveals her promising research as she works to see if there’s a way for humans and dolphins to interact with each other using language. She shares great footage of these beautiful creatures and gives viewers a closer look at her experiments. She says, “Imagine what it would be like to really understand the mind of another intelligent species on the planet.”
4. Robert Full: Learning from the gecko’s tail Lizards are cool—and UC Berkeley biologist Robert Full shares how studying geckos and collaborating with other fields, like engineering, is leading to innovative technologies. (The high-speech footage of geckos alone is worth a watch.) He also points to the importance of conservation: “We must preserve nature’s designs, otherwise these secrets will be lost forever.”