One of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned is that there is always choice. We always have a choice in any situation even if the choice is how we perceive the situation. When we don’t recognize we have a choice we feel very disempowered. When we believe we are powerless it feels horrible.
I began to wonder about the animals I care for. How powerless do they feel? Do I give them choices? Do I allow them to feel a sense of freedom?
The cats probably feel they are very empowered. They are outdoor cats, partly because Becky has severe allergies and partly because having talked to hundreds of cats I know how important it is to them to have access to the outdoors. They make their own choices each day about where to go and what to do. Red perhaps feels a bit disempowered lately because he wants to come hang out in the house with the people and dogs…but Becky reminds me of her allergies. She says something about putting a plastic bag over my head and trying to breathe so I can relate to her. And so Red remains outside.
For some keeping the cats in is a choice you have made and understandably so. There are many dangers in the out of doors…but remember the stress it can cause when given no choice about this. Cats really need to feel a connection to the earth so even time out in a harness can be helpful. (It would be their second or third choice.)
My horses live a pretty empowered life. They have several pastures to choose from, food and water always available, mineral and supplements that they choose. They are out in their herd 24/7 with access to shelter from wind, rain and cold when they want it.
This past spring they did lose one of their choices. To keep the sensitive ones from over grazing and experiencing laminitis, they are now wearing grazing muzzles. They would not choose this. I am certain of this. Mariah was very clear it was not her choice when she took the muzzle off a couple of times. Finally she relented; she chose to live with it.
The dogs probably have the least choice. If we allowed them to do as they please there would be a revolving door on the house so they could chase squirrels and other critters at will. They would never get a bath after rolling in rotten carcasses or bird doo or ever for that matter. They would bark and howl until they were hoarse and leashes and collars would not exist. There would be a doggy door on the refrigerator. Obviously this would be doggy mayhem for the humans.
Lucy, our shepherd/collie cross does get a bit more freedom. She gets to hang out outside as much as she wants during the day if we are around, weather permitting. The others are not so lucky…or reliable. We do allow off leash time here and at the dog park and even though walking on a leash is not as fun as off, it is still better than being stuck in the house.
From my many conversations with the animals I have learned how important it is that we provide as many opportunities for choice to them as possible. That is not to say we don’t give them boundaries. They need to feel structure and know we are in charge so they don’t have to be. But, allowing them to be a dog or horse or cat or whatever as much as possible is very important to their mental and physical well-being. Just as we need to understand we have a choice, so do they.