By: Jessica Danyow, NEFED Board Advisor
While doing some stocking stuffer shopping before the holidays I saw a sticker of a dozing cat with the thought bubble “Meh. . .” above her head. Cute, I thought, and I added it to my purchases.
For some reason I’ve been thinking a lot about that sticker and the thought bubble message juxtaposed with the peacefully lounging cat. Worldwide it seems we human animals are feeling “Meh” as we go about our daily rounds while navigating the ongoing pandemic, climate-change related severe weather, political dysfunction, endangered democracy, labor shortages and supply chain disruptions that mean, among more serious things, that our beloved cats have to eat what we can find on the shelves instead of their favorites. For all of us who work in sheltering, we’re also faced with the seemingly endless stream of unwanted and uncared for animals who are too often a by-product of our consumeristic, disposable society. No wonder it’s hard feel light-hearted and charged with optimism as we get up in the dark each day to try again.
Our shelter has a working cat who lives here and she likes to be carried around and look at things upside down. I don’t know why she likes this but it reminds me that sometimes looking at things in a different way can be really refreshing. As the New Year begins I am going to remind myself to look at our work from the perspective of the individual animals we are helping . . . the dozing cat, so to speak.
The dehydrated stray cat that gets warm fluids and a clean bed doesn’t know how overwhelmed and frightened we are; she knows only that she doesn’t thirst and has a soft space to rest. For the time being, she knows only good because of us. The abused dog who was heartlessly surrendered and then hears the soft voice of a staffer murmuring to him from outside the kennel door doesn’t know how worried we are about his ultimate adoptability; he knows only that a stream of soft, kind words are flowing his way and maybe he feels a bit of comfort and hope. For the time being, he knows only good because of us. The shivering rabbit who was abandoned in his backyard and brought to the shelter by a kind neighbor doesn’t know how many rabbits we are currently caring for and how long it takes to get them adopted; he knows only that he has a pile of good grass hay to settle into. For the time being he knows only good because of us. Like you all, I could think of so many more examples but that is not my point.
My point is to remind you that from the perspective of the animals we serve you are a source of nothing but goodness and, at this dark time of year, light. The activities of your daily professional rounds bring comfort to countless animals and unlike the blasé cat of the bumper sticker, I know the thought bubbles of the animals we serve would say “Yay”! Life is good.
“Yay!” does more than change a bumper sticker. We all endorse positive reinforcement as the most humane and effective way to socialize our dogs into becoming well-adjusted family members because celebrating the positive and ignoring the bad works! It builds up our dog’s self-confidence and gets us the results we want. It’s inspiring, energizing, and in the workplace it’s contagious.
To say we ignore the bad in positive reinforcement training is not quite right; we minimize it and we make adjustments to the dog’s environment to reduce or eliminate the chances of the bad behavior being repeated. In the workplace we can think of cheerfully focusing on the good and finding the humor in our crazy work days is like adjusting the socio-emotional environment of work and minimizing the chances that the world’s, or the day’s, current stressors can bring us down. Seek to make your workplace an environment that lifts you up and you will carry others with you.
In conclusion I urge you, as the New Year unfolds, to remember that you are a beacon of light to many and to remember how much control you have over your response to what is so soulfully described in the final lines of Max Ehrmann’s 1927 poem, Desiradata: With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”
See the beautiful.