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Essay: I Remember Mew The Envy Method
September 5, 2013 - By Mollie Hogan, Founder, The Nature of Wildworks
PHOTO COURTESY OF MOLLIE HOGAN
Now 16, Envy the mountain lion lives at the Nature of Wildworks in Topanga.
This is the story of Envy the mountain lion. She's pretty much been through it all. Many of you know some of what's happenedshe was declawed as a kitten, then surgery for a brain tumor, declaw repair surgery and, in recent years, she suffered through three intestinal blockages, each requiring exploratory surgery.
Envy is now 16 and understandably a little wobbly on her feet.
We take good care of her here. She receives medication twice daily and is on a specialized diet. She has lots of human friends who pet her through the enclosure and talk to her throughout the day. But, recently, I was surprised to notice that Envy wasn't talking back.
BOB, THE HOUSE CAT
Like their cousin, the domestic house cat, healthy hand-raised mountain lions meow and purr. As you may have noticed with your pet cat, purring can be a sign of wellbeing.
Cats purr when we pet them or even when we approach them in anticipation of a positive interaction. Another feel-good activity, by a cats definition, is eating a can of Fancy Feast or killing a bird. I might guess that a mountain lion in nature would purr while eating a freshly killed deer. To us, killing prey is offensive; to a cat, large or small, it's a positive activity.
However, purring can also be a self-medicating tool. Cats purr when they feel good and for the opposite reason, to help themselves feel better. A very sick cat may still purr or even purr continuously, but a very sick cat will rarely "talk.
When I say "Hi" to Bob my house cat, he looks up and says "Meow," which, in this case, means Hi in cat. In the morning when I put milk in my coffee, Bob hears the refrigerator open and comes running. He looks up at the milk carton and says Meow.
This time, meow means milk, pleasenot sure about the pleaseand hurry up about it! Although "Meow" can mean different things, Bob's voice tells me that he's feeling good.
PIRATE AND CLIFF
It's the same for the Wildworks mountain lions. If I look at Pirate and say "Hi Pi," Cliff says"Meow" and if I say "Hi, Cliff" he, too, looks back and says "Meow." Each animal has an individual voice, but the positive meaning is the same. One of our founding mountain lions, Sage, suffered from kidney failure.
After a time it was decided that her quality of life was disappearing and it broke our hearts when the decision was made to euthanize her. During those last months, Sage purred continuously but never once meowed.
In Envy's case I don't know how long it had been but, sadly, I noticed about a month ago that she had completely stopped meowing. When I said Hi, En, she said nothing.
I love to train animals. Over the years all my best ideas have come from watching the animals and this time Envy inspired me to try something. Why not train Envy to meow again?
The process is simple, really.
First a food reward (in Envys case a small piece of chicken) for loud purring, something she already does. Reinforce that for a while and then use a treat to tease her into making a slightly different sound. At first, her voice sounded very strained, nothing like a meow but, gradually, with reinforcement it grew into a weak version of her original voice and it keeps getting better.
So far, this is working, although she doesn't yet meow without encouragement. Given more time, I'm almost positive that she will. By the way, Envy has a really cute meow, different from Pirate and Cliff. She says Mew two times fast in a rowMew Mew. Really cute! Does this actually mean that Envy feels better again? It's hard to say for sure. I know that this type of training in itself is a mental and physical benefit to any animal, regardless of the result. She's definitely more attentive and I like to think that feeling and hearing her own voice again is positive for her.
THE ENVY METHOD FOR PEOPLE
Animals are just like us, really. I've always loved to sing. But too many things have happened lately for me to feel like singing much. With the world in such a state it's hard to keep a positive perspective, isn't it? The interesting thing is that when I do sing, I feel better. In a way, like Envy's meow, it helps me remember how to feel good. I'm wondering if this could work for all of us. We could call it The Envy Method.
Start simple with a loud purr (or a smile) and build on it.
Begin with a friendly "Hello" and a pet (or a bowl of milk) for a close subject like your housecat. Reward yourself with a piece of chocolate.
Next, smile and say "Hi" to your friends and then move up to random dogs and perfect strangers. Eventually every human and animal you meet might feel better and so will you. And the chocolate always helps!
Leave it up to Envy, the mountain lion, to inspire a "Meow" in all of us.
The Nature of Wildworks provides lifelong quality care for a special group of wild and domestic animals. Our devoted staff and volunteers care deeply about each and every individual. Whether it be a majestic mountain lion like Envy or a scruffy housecat like Bob, found as a three-week-old kitten, alone and starving at a construction site, all here are equal. We know that you care, too, and it's because of you and your support that we are able to continue our invaluable work of caring for animals and educating the public.
To contribute to the care of all the Wildworks critters please visit our website at www.natureofwildworks.org to pay with PayPal or mail a check, payable to: The Nature of Wildworks, P.O. Box 109, Topanga CA 90290.
For those who have time to share, devoted volunteers are always welcome.