Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lessons applied

So, one of our cats (Mitzi), had some sort of major health crisis a little while ago. Something made her kidneys and liver shut down, which led to a horrendous vet bill and a prescription of two pills a day. When she was on death's door getting her to take these pills was a fairly easy task. Happily she started recovering and the pills got to be a little more difficult. In the last few days she has come back to herself - the cat who can't be held, much less controlled enough to jam a pill down her throat. With two adults holding her there were many scratches inflicted. At one point she flipped out and bit her tongue. There was blood everywhere. The absurdity of the situation hit me (halfway killing an animal in the process of giving her life saving medicine) and I realized that this seemed a lot like life with msk.

The idea of directing msk has always been a challenge. For a while scooping him up or holding him was an option, but it always seemed to make him more pissed off. Slowly we learned that you don't stop msk, you divert him. You follow his lead and if at all possible; you don't yell or grab things away from him. There are some situations, walking into traffic for example, that take decisive action. Generally though, the price of getting him to abruptly follow your will is too high. We've learned that you need to finesse a change in course.

Applying that lesson, I can now single-handedly get Mitzi to take her pills. Very calmly I hold her and stick a pill into the side of her mouth back to the molars. She gets annoyed and spits it out. I repeat this as many times as required. No pinching her mouth open. No forcing her to swallow the pill. I just get it into the back of her mouth and eventually she swallows and we're done.

Maybe I always knew that fighting wasn't the right solution, but I've got to thank msk for a multi-year program that has taught me patience and redirection.

The other way msk has influenced our cat's life is more humorous. When she repeatedly launches herself at the backdoor, batting at the doorknob and willing you to let her out, our response is: "What do you want Mitzi? Use your words. What do you want?" We've been trained to encourage verbal communication when obvious non-verbal communication is in use. Sometimes I think the behavioral training in our house has been for everybody besides msk.

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