Being Present for Your Pets

sunshine-and-leafMore often than not, we receive stories from people who write about their pets after the beloved companion has died. Although these stories are wonderful tributes, we wonder if the person might have written while their pet was still alive.  Note: Leaf (dog), Sunshine (bird), and Speedy (cat) are featured in the images in the blog.

The process of writing causes the writer to become aware and observant. It brings the past and future together in the present. Although it has been cathartic for us, too, to write about pets who are no longer with us, there is something immensely satisfying when we take the time to be present to our pets right now.

speedy-1

In the present moment we can express our gratitude for the joy they are bringing to our lives. When Allen wrote his New York Times bestselling memoir A Dog Named Leaf, it was emotionally fulfilling to be able to take a walk with Leaf, photograph him playing at his favorite dog park, and tuning in to who he is to us today.

There is always a tinge of sadness in writing about animals, even while they are living. We know their life spans are shorter than ours. We know this immensely good thing will someday end. But writing and sharing
stories about them, while we can still pet and play together, replaces fears of loss with admiration and gratitude for the blessings.

sunshine-1Let’s see what new and inspiring stories bubble to the surface as a result of living in the present and rejoicing in the blessings of now.

 

“Anatole France said, ‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.’ We agree with that statement. And we heartily invite you to join us in exploring the world of Angel Animals.”

Alpha Leaf

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Excerpted from New York Times bestselling book, A Dog Named Leaf by Allen Anderson with Linda Anderson, published by Lyons Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Summary of the Story:

Allen and Linda Anderson adopted a traumatized one-year-old cocker spaniel who had been abandoned. Soon, the troubled dog they named “Leaf” turned their home into a war zone. Although Leaf and Allen were forging a friendship with visits to dog parks and bonding time, Leaf’s emotional issues overwhelmed the couple.

Shortly after Leaf’s arrival, Allen, who had spent eight years as a big city police officer and survived so many close calls that Linda called him “Miracle Man,” received a diagnosis from his doctor that made him think his luck had finally run out. Allen had an unruptured brain aneurysm that could be fatal, and the surgery to repair it might leave him debilitated.

A few weeks after Allen’s brain surgery while he was still trying to recover, the following section of the story occurred.

***

Alpha Leaf

a-dog-named-leaf-21

During my healing process Leaf became my channel for viewing and living in the strange post-surgery world where my body could no longer be trusted to do what was necessary. After I was cleared to drive again, I took Leaf to the dog park so both of us could relax. With my frontal lobe still not in total functioning mode, other drivers agitated me. I now understood how a person could be overtaken by road rage.

To my embarrassment, I found myself yelling at drivers who lingered at stoplights. It irritated me that they crossed lanes too close in front of my car, chattered on their cell phones, or indulged in other poor driving habits. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been fazed much and just made sure I got out of their way.

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In our car CD player, we keep a recording of around five thousand people chanting the love-filled mantra “HU.” For me, it is an incredibly soothing sound. The voices of all these chanters fluctuate and harmonize into a magnificent, unrehearsed symphony of high vibrational sound. When I’m driving I often push the button on the car stereo system and listen to the uplifting song waft through the speakers. With Leaf in the car, I doubly enjoy the chant, sensing that it also soothes and comforts him.

On this day Leaf watched me from the front seat as my anger erupted at other drivers. I was like someone with Tourette’s syndrome, unable to censor my negative mind talk. After watching me scream

at a bus that stopped frequently in front of my car, Leaf reached his paw over to the CD player. Out of six buttons on the stereo, he firmly pressed the one that allowed the HU CD to play.

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The timing, position of his paw, his selection of buttons, and the CD that happened to be in the stereo could have all been coincidental. I didn’t care. I needed it. Consciously or not, I knew Leaf was being God’s messenger for me. His act of compassion had its desired effect. I calmed down and let the chant heal my troubled, aching heart and mind. Gratitude welled up in me. My dog had figured out how to supply exactly what I needed to dissolve a passion of the mind I couldn’t control.

I looked over at him. As if nothing had happened, as if he did this sort of thing every day, his attention returned to the traffic. His curious eyes darted back and forth as he watched cars whiz by. Who was this dog? If I couldn’t register an oncoming vehicle, would he lean over and steer the car out of the way for me too?

Later that day I sat on the living room couch with Leaf in his usual spot. His body draped across my torso, and his head rested on my crossed leg. Although I’d grown over the months to appreciate him at deeper levels, at this moment I experienced an epiphany about our relationship.

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I looked at my little adopted dog and realized that we were both emotionally damaged goods. My lack of trust in people, fear of being dependent like my stroke-ridden father, discomfort when people expressed their emotions, and an overwhelming need for privacy all sprung from a childhood in which I never had enough strength to feel safe. Eight years of police work had confronted me with some of the worst humanity had to offer. With its random violence, it had reinforced my low opinion of anyone’s, including my own, trustworthiness.

a-dog-named-leaf-5Leaf ‘s fear, mistrust, and mercurial emotions arose from losing everything he’d ever known and being left without any safety net but his own street smarts. Although he’d been the abandoned shelter dog we rescued, without a doubt he had more than returned the favor. I knew now that life had turned our relationship to its flip side. Leaf was rescuing and trying to heal me. This little black cocker spaniel, abandoned and thrown out like someone’s trash, named Harley at the shelter after a motorcycle he detested, had become nothing less than a spiritual giant in my life.

Visit <http://www.adognamedleaf.com&gt; for details about A DOG NAMED LEAF.

Has an animal tried to communicate his or her wishes to you?

LEAF’S SPOT

Leaf

Leaf

In the early morning Allen was sitting on the couch in a different place than normal, having his morning cup of coffee. Leaf walked up, sat in front of him, and stared. Allen asked our little cocker spaniel what he wanted. Leaf continued to stare at him.

Allen had already given breakfast to Leaf but had forgotten to include a small apple slice that he usually gets for dessert. Still under Leaf’s watchful eye, Allen went to the kitchen and gave Leaf his customary apple slice.

Allen returned to his morning waking-up ritual on the living room couch. Leaf sat down in front of Allen and resumed staring at him. Allen thought, “Maybe he needs to go outside for a bathroom break.” So he left his coffee cup, got up, and let Leaf outside. Nothing happened, though, and they immediately came back into the house.

Once again, Allen sat on the couch only to have Leaf gaze into his eyes as if he was trying to tell him something. Finally, Allen stood up and attempted to figure out what Leaf wanted. The moment he stood, Leaf jumped onto the couch in the spot where Allen had sat. He curled up and made himself comfortable.

At last, it occurred to Allen that he had been sitting on the spot where Leaf usually sprawled out on the couch. Every morning, Allen sat on the smaller couch while Leaf had his reserved spot, viewing the world outside the living room window.

Humans can be so dense. 🙂

Has an animal tried to communicate his or her wishes to you?

SUNSHINE, THE COMPOSER

Sunshine whistles and sings to the world as his day begins each morning. Linda works to keep up with his whistle, but often Sunshine goes places with his whistles she is unable to imitate.

Sunshine

Sunshine

Now, with gusto he has begun performing each evening too. He starts out whistling three to five notes with surprising range, then works to achieve a theme, and uses it as a building block for an even more complex melody. At this point Linda is no longer able to keep up with him and stops whistling back. But she listens with admiration and fascination as he performs his improvisations.

Sunshine

Sunshine

Sunshine creates his own compositions based on nearly twenty years of mastering his repertoire. In a previous blog we wrote about him listening to LES MISERABLES one evening when we watched a DVD of the musical. He quickly learned the melody. The next morning, to our delight, he shared melodies from the musical.

Sunshine

Sunshine

Visit <http://www.angelanimals.net/nlimage126.html >to see images of Sunshine.

Heartland Forum’s Moveable Feast Luncheon

Heartland  Forum's Moveable Feast Luncheon

Linda Attending the Heartland
Forum’s Moveable Feast Luncheon

Linda Anderson visited with booksellers and librarians at the Heartland  Forum’s Moveable Feast Luncheon on October 1st. At this sold-out affair, all attendees received a complimentary tote bag with a signed copy of ANIMAL STARS by Robin Ganzert, PhD and Allen and Linda Anderson. The book was featured in the event.

Heartland  Forum's Moveable Feast Luncheon

Animal Stars Featured at the Heartland
Forum’s Moveable Feast Luncheon

#AnimalStars has recently been featured on Fox & Friends and an Associated Press wire service article that was picked up by about 2,000 media outlets.

Animal Stars

Animal Stars

Visit http://www.animalstarsbook.com for more details.

A DOG NAMED LEAF IN A TREE

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

LEAF IN A TREE

“Oh, my God! There’s a dog in the tree!” one of three teenage girls yelled with disbelief, as the trio walked past us. When they saw the dog, the other two teens called almost in unison, “Oh, my God!” as they all gawked upward.

Our cocker spaniel Leaf and we were at our regular Saturday morning spot, sitting on the soft white sand, viewing the great Mississippi river as it slowly flowed past. This was our quiet time to reflect on our week and what lay ahead.

Our Saturday spot is in the middle of 12 acres of a heavily wooded forest with many walking trails–all existing for dogs. It has an official name, but we call it DOG PARK HEAVEN, the BEST dog park ever.

Near where we always sit on the beach, a large fallen oak tree with ample branches thrusts toward the river. The incline is low enough that Leaf feels comfortable climbing upward, high onto its limb. Upon reaching his destination, he lies down on the thick branch. Then he places his most precious procession, an orange bouncy ball, between his two front paws. With the ball in its proper place, he relaxes and observes all the activities beneath him. This is HIS spot where no dog or human can reach him.

As the people and their canines strolled down the beach one Saturday, some, like the teenagers, noticed Leaf. Most of the time people made their statement about the dog in the tree in a monotone voice as if trying to be cool about such a strange sight. It was as if they were saying, “The tree has leaves.”

Some asked, “Is that your dog?” Linda replied, “Yes, he likes heights. He must have been a cat in a previous life.”

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

With those additional details each person continued to stare at Leaf as he or she slowly approached the tree. With a slight moment of hesitation, they continued walking under the branch while Leaf looked down at them, probably thinking, “They won’t get my ball.”

A few times, passing dogs would also look skyward and see Leaf. Some glared at him when they realized he was not a squirrel. The big dogs looked horrified that a smaller dog would dare be higher than they. “It’s just not natural,” they seemed to be thinking. Other dogs noticed that Leaf had something between his paws. Could it be a ball?

With perfect timing, suddenly and with purpose, Leaf repeatedly showed the dogs that he, in fact, had his own ball. “See! Look at me! Mine!” While he actively chomped on his ball, no canine considered taking the challenge of climbing high to swipe it.

Maybe people were double-checking to make sure what they saw was real and could now be part of their expanded worldview of what dogs do. Maybe the dogs looked back at Leaf to ponder a day when they might get the ball Leaf guarded. After all, it was as if he was mocking them by proudly displaying his prize.

As it turns out, Leaf had a plan of action outside of teasing the dogs below him with a ball they could never capture. He wanted to show off how macho he was or maybe display his intelligence. Using advanced strategic planning, he carefully evaluated potential foes. With amazing timing he threw his ball downward to the beach as his chosen mark approached.

Leaf chose dogs who were totally unaware of his presence above them. With delight and ecstasy, the dogs couldn’t believe their good luck. A ball had dropped from the sky, a gift from the heavens, a toy to enjoy. This was truly DOG PARK HEAVEN!

At the chosen one’s moment of greatest gratitude and vulnerability, Leaf swooped down from his high perch, also appearing to have fallen from the sky. Eye-to-eye with the chosen canine, he quickly chomped on the orange ball and ran with it back up the tree. There, he safely watched the dog’s disappointment and bewilderment that the unexpected gift had been taken away only seconds after being offered.

As we relaxed at our spot on the beach, watching The Leaf Show, dogs slowly walked over to us to say hello. We gentle caressed their heads or ears and told each of our visitors how beautiful he or she was.

This game Leaf played with unsuspecting dogs continued for weeks until one Saturday when we all experienced a profound change. As usual, Leaf displayed his total joy in being back at Dog Park Heaven. We slowly walked down the long winding trail to the Mississippi river and found our regular spot. While we sat in the soft cool sand, Leaf climbed his tree, holding his orange ball in his mouth and rooting himself into his high spot. All was right with the world.

Soon after we relaxed, one dog, then two, then four rushed over to scale Leaf’s exclusive tree branch. Word had gotten out. Was this a dog version of text messaging or inner social media, ending up with a flash mob? Leaf’s personal domain now had uninvited visitors. Big dogs, small dogs, wet and dirty dogs of all sizes formed packs and were invading HIS tree. Tensely he gripped the ball in his mouth, guarding it against those who dared occupy his branch of safety and personal refuge.

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

Consciousness had expanded. The traditional dog park with noses sniffing close to ground had vanished. Traditional canine experience was no longer limited. Humans were delighted and amazed that their dogs could now go high. With nervous laughter they said things such as, “Look at her! I didn’t know she could do that!” Placing limitations on their companions was no longer as easy as previously.

Leaf too had to become accustomed to a new dog park reality. Observing the world from above can be fun but his high spot was no longer unreachable. As a result, he began coming down to earth more often to mix it up, play with other dogs, and have us throw his ball to chase and retrieve.

What did the three of us learn?

Sometimes life breaks through seemingly unbreakable boundaries we have place upon ourselves — fixed notions of what individuals are capable of doing and being. Yet neither dog-made nor man-created limitations are absolute.

What have the animals in your life taught you about possibilities?

A DOG NAMED LEAF

A DOG NAMED LEAF

Visit <http://www.angelanimals.net/nlimage118.html&gt; to view Leaf in a tree.

A Bear, a Deer, and Rescued Creatures Form a Family of Animal Stars

We have seen images of bears curiously peeking into cars and rummaging through trash cans, looking for food. But the concept of a bear and a man forming an enduring team that opened the hearts of everyone who met and worked with them never entered our minds.

Not until we had the privilege of meeting one half of an amazing bear-human partnership. Nick (Nicholas) Toth is the second-generation owner of Cougar Hill Ranch and trainer of Casey, one of the most famous and versatile bears in the world. Casey performed in numerous movies and commercials but is universally known as Baloo, the Bear, in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story.

Casey lives on in his screen roles, including as the Tolstoy-reading bear in Because of Winn-Dixie. He also lives on in story after story that Nick and his aunt Helena Walsh tell about meeting, training, and working and traveling with the personality-plus bear they raised from the time he was a cub. Nick wrote about his complex and satisfying relationship in a story titled, “Casey as Baloo the Bear in the Jungle Book Movies: Where’s the Closest KFC?” His story is one of thirty in the book we co-wrote with Robin Ganzert, PhD, president and CEO of American Humane Association.

Helena and Casey

Helena and Casey

For Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors, we did extensive research which included meeting the celebrity animals who star in film and television and interviewing their world-class trainers. We wanted to find out how Nick helped to transform a massive bear into such a lovable personality captured on camera. And what was this talented and enchanting big bear like off-camera?

On a hot and arid mid-July day we drove through desert landscape out of Los Angeles down dusty country roads to Cougar Hill Ranch. As we chatted about the upcoming visit, we didn’t realize that we were in for a delightful treat. A long, winding gravel road led to a place where we parked our rental car. We got out to take a closer look at a clean and organized facility. About a half-dozen buildings, large fenced-in sections, and abundant shade trees housed a variety of animals. The pleasant environment had the feel of a family setting; not strictly a business facility.

We walked toward the Cougar Ranch main office just as Nick Toth, a bear of a man himself, came out the door. He smiled a friendly, welcoming greeting and escorted us to his office, a couple of adjoining rooms with a door that opened directly to the grounds. Similar to ours at home in Minnesota, this was definitely the working office of a busy person. Piles of papers and photos, file folders, and storage boxes were neatly stacked around the rooms. A large fan whirred, keeping us cool in spite of the dry heat.

Casey on a Movie Set

Casey on a Movie Set

Nick sat on a chair near a large wooden desk and indicated that we should make ourselves comfortable on a sofa covered with a colorful print cloth. We had entered “Command Central” where Nick and his family made important decisions about calls for the services of their well-trained and cared-for working animal stars.

Nick was soon joined by his Aunt Helena. In the way two people, who have grown up together, converse, Nick and Helena finished each other’s sentences and remembered details the other had forgotten to mention. After we set up our miniature recorder and began to take notes, Nick and Helena told us about the family’s rich, long Hollywood history. Nick’s father, George Toth, was a refugee to America from Hungary after that country’s uprising against Russian rule in 1956.

An expert falconer and dog trainer, after moving his family to California, George went to work for Disney Studios. In 1970 he purchased Cougar Hill Ranch and turned it into a family business. While other children went home to play and watch afternoon television programs, after school each day Nick and his sister Elizabeth cleaned cages, fed the animals, and trained them to perform in movies. “My ability to choose and train animals for films, television, and commercials came from having literally grown up with them. Our whole family was involved in this business,” Nick said.

After Nick and Helena talked about family history, they warmed up to their favorite topic—Casey. They regaled us with one anecdote after another about Casey’s first job when he was five months old to filming Back to the Future. While attending the movie’s cast party, Casey discovered what would become an essential for every job. Nick recalled, “Somebody brought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and gave him a piece. He lit up as if saying, ‘This is the best thing on earth!’” From that point on, in addition to Casey’s daily five-gallon buckets of lettuce, apples, peaches, oranges, berries, melons, breads, carrots, the Toths’ homemade dog food, and kibble, Casey demanded cut-up pieces of KFC fried chicken as his go-to reward for tasks well done.

According to Helena, “No other fried chicken satisfied him.” No matter where they were working, the movie’s crew had to drive to the closest KFC each day to bring back Casey’s Colonel Sanders’ Original Recipe. “He could tell the difference and refused any substitute.”

Over the years, Nick and Casey developed a relationship like no other between a bear a man. Nick would scratch Casey’s feet, play ball with the bear, and then Casey would knock Nick down when he’d had enough pampering. Still, Nick and his family of professional animal trainers never forgot that despite Casey’s endearing qualities, the bear was fast, smart, and could be extremely aggressive. They always watched for signs that Casey needed to rest. “He is thinking evil,” Nick would observe. And the Toths would scoot Casey off set to the bear’s private trailer for a break.

Nick, Helena and Hollyberry

Nick, Helena and Hollyberry

We spent a couple of hours learning about Nick and Casey’s many years working together until Casey’s retirement and eventual passing. After the emotions rose to the surface while Nick and Helena remembered remarkable career, it was a quiet and sweet relief to go outside for a tour of their facility.

Helena brought out another of the family’s most cherished members – Hollyberry, a rescued deer. California Fish and Wildlife often bring wild or exotic animals for rehabilitation at Cougar Hill Ranch. Hollyberry was a day-old doe a warden had found near the highway. Only palm-sized, she had been born prematurely and left to die. Nick and his family raised the baby into a small but healthy deer.

Because Hollyberry was so frail and tiny, the Toths had to keep her in their home. Usually they would attempt to return a rescued wild animal to a natural habitat, but this baby needed so much nurturing that she bonded with the family.

While Helena fed Hollyberry apple slices, she and Nick talked about the deer’s powerful trust in them. As it turns out, Holly is so calm that she’s often seen in commercials in which a car looks as if it’s about to hit a deer. In carefully orchestrated scenes in which American Humane Association’s certified animal safety representatives partner with Nick to make sure Holly (or no other animal) ever gets hurt, a car appears to be hurtling toward Holly, placing the deer in danger.

Nick says, “She stands still while the car approaches, with absolute certainty and trust that we will make sure she does not get hit.” She does her job so well that producers and directors remember and ask for her by name when they are filming such a scene. Holly even has her own animatronic double who fills in for her so she never has to do anything that might be dangerous.

Animal Stars

Animal Stars

As with the other world-class trainers who contributed stories to Animal Stars, we asked Nick for secret training tips. He talked to us about his advice for transporting animals over long distances with some great tips on page 59 of the book. But he added something very touching that seemed to sum up this gentle family’s way of viewing their relationships with the animals. Nick says, “My mom had a habit of blessing our truck with holy water and saying a prayer with us before we left the ranch for our trips to work locations. My mom and Helena always said very long blessings. When I do them now, they are much shorter: ‘Take us there. Bring us back. Amen.’”

Bring us back, Nick. We’d love to visit Cougar Hill Ranch again!