Pay Attention!

Don’t Ignore ME!


Oh, the things our pets do to get our attention.  My dog Jolene sat in front of me and huffed and puffed until I looked at her and asked, “WHAT!”

My neighbor’s parrot climbs to the top of  the drapery and hangs out there until dad comes home so that instead of passing her by as she sits quietly on her cage, he sees her hanging  out where she’s not supposed to, goes straight to her and demands she comes down.

Another neighbor has a cat that will sit outside a closed door and squeal until someone gives up and lets him into the room.  Who needs privacy?  Not a cat.

The question is, are we spoiling our pets by giving them the attention they demand?  Or are we really starving them of attention, making them go to extreme measures to get us to focus more on their needs?

The truth is that we have busy lives and we keep getting busier.  Our mornings are filled with preparations for work or school, our days are filled with doing chores, our jobs, or school, then we come home, head for our computers and televisions, eat dinner, and prepare for the next day of work or school.  Sometimes our pets are lucky to have water in their bowls.

Even though Jolene got on my nerves with her huffing and puffing, I encouraged her to speak up and tell me if I was neglecting her.  It may seem weird to let a dog have a say in what happens in her life, but I know I can lose track of time sometimes and forget to do my parental duty.   It also encouraged her to try to communicate with me, opening a dialogue of sorts between us that actually improved our bond.  And when she had to resort to the huffing and puffing it gave me a clue that I needed to pay more attention to what I wasn’t doing for her.

Like children, though, it’s possible to relay the wrong message with our attention.  Our cat pees outside the litter box.  Our dog chews on our favorite shoes.  Our bird lights on a shelf and starts throwing our delicate knick-knacks onto the floor.  We rush into the room to admonish them and then clean up their messes, forcing us to stay in the room and focus on their presence, wanted or not.  This is the way habitual bad behavior gets started.  A little light bulb goes off in their little heads and they think, “Hey, now I know how to get mom to spend some time with me!”  Not good.

I guess the trick is to pay attention when the clues are a minor inconvenience instead of waiting until they have to resort to major misbehaving to attend to their needs.  When you bring an animal home make the commitment to listen to them when they are talking to you.  When you have a pack animal like a dog, or a flock animal like a bird, remember that they need a structured family dynamic to feel secure.  Even an independent animal like a cat needs to know that we care.   Don’t be afraid to validate your pet when he looks at you and says something.  Even a response of, “Really?” or “You don’t say,” can be enough to let them feel heard, and when your pet feels he’s getting enough attention he’ll be more secure and calm and be more inclined to stay out of trouble.  With a little practice you might actually be able to understand the message being relayed.

I find myself taking the responses a step further, making me seem a bit odd to the average human onlooker.  When I’m outside I find myself relaying my gardening plans to the squirrels and wild birds, sometimes, even, to the larger insects.  If they look at me, I look back and validate them.  I can’t help it.  Just the other day I was given the once-over by a large carpenter bee.  He hovered in front of my face and looked me straight in the eye, I think, and I told him it was nice to meet him.  I was surprised when a new human neighbor jumped out from behind his car and returned the sentiment.   Who knows, maybe that was the bee’s intent all along.

One day I was in the kitchen prepping food and cleaning up, busy in my own thoughts as I whiled away the morning.  I was mildly aware of the bird chatter in the other room as my bird, Charlie, sat in her cage and waited for me to join her.

Suddenly the chatter turned into an admonition: “Answer me!”

Apparently she got tired of me ignoring her.  She wanted me to talk to her, join in on her conversation with the world.  She wanted me to acknowledge her presence in our home. Needless to say, I made sure she was acknowledged, and I’ve tried every day since to answer her calls.  Treating Charlie like a fellow sentient being has helped my relationship with her and has brought us both joy.

Every critter has a brain.  That brain has a communication center.  We can’t ignore it, they won’t let us.  It might take a little practice to focus on everybody in the room, but it can be done.  A little positive attention can go a long way, and you can avoid an animal disaster by getting the message the first or second time.  Letting your little loved one know you have her attention will improve your relationship and your ability to care for her.

The rewards are high for those who listen to their pets, so pay attention people!  You won’t regret it.

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