Almost everything features poop today---in a roundabout sort of way.
Humans tend to think of the ‘lower’ animals who share our lives- cats, birds, dogs, etc. -as being ‘dumb’ in the sense that they aren’t capable of reasoning things out. Therefore, they can’t make a plan- can they?
Well, they’re often physically lower, but certainly not incapable of creating flexible, adjustable mental constructs in order to survive, and thrive, in this complex world.
Bryn, my labradoodle, shall serve as one example.
This past winter was particularly tough. Temperatures nestled in the basement, competing successfully with our freezers as they hovered around minus four degrees. Ice and deep snow blanketed the better part of Michigan, forcing me to opt out of walking Bryn each dark morning, for safety reasons. Instead, I regretfully let her out back into the secret garden, where she had been taught never to do her business.
Puzzled, she sat on the white walk that first time, looking into the kitchen’s big window, head cocked, flanked by very deep snow.
Are you sure, Boss? ‘The Rule’....
I stared back, blinkless, in answer to her silent query, so finally, she looked around, thought about it for a good while, then decided. She would pee only in the Ram’s Head Garden beds and poop as close to its outer edge as possible.
I more completely appreciated that adjustment to ‘exigent circumstances’ only yesterday, when I took advantage of Traverse City’s heat wave- 42 degrees!- to further collect her winter droppings. (Nearly four feet of snow had gone, making the job easy.)
When presented with this huge Rule change, Bryn had taken just minutes to sort it out and adapt to suit both of us. The evidence lay before me.
I predict that, in warm weather, she will NOT use the garden as her WC, having worked out seasonal Rule changes. This can’t be taught. It develops when an animal learns to respond flexibly to the countless novel, often inexplicable situations that Life presents. Bryn’s Alpha had made an exception to the Rule; she would, too, despite her uneasiness.
There’d be more proof that this former sin was canceled when she came back in.
“Good girl,” I said, assuming a benign expression as I held the kitchen door open.
She settled happily into breakfast.
I often help the staff to clean stalls, a daily task. I really enjoy the job. A few days ago I slipped into Menesson’s much larger one to address the mess. (Casalae Farm’s magnificent Arabian stud stallion is ‘my’ horse to learn on, most of the time.) As King, he occupies the biggest stall.
He greeted me with tossing head, then pushed his nose into my chest, nickering. I slipped him a treat; we canoodled for a bit; I got to work.
And Then- something awesome, delightful, and really funny, happened.
Noting the position of my large poop collection bucket, parked in the center of his stall, he faced away from it and began to back very slowly and deliberately toward the thing, feeling his way by extending his hind hooves! I watched, entranced, as one hind hoof felt around in half circles, then the other one. He occasionally turned his head to look behind him, measuring, before backing up a few more inches to extend the left one, then the right, over and over, until both had finally made delicate contact with the bucket in different spots, precisely establishing its position. Backing up one more scant inch to make it perfect - he pooped into it.
I burst out laughing.
Menesson has a quirky sense of humor!
It’s such an honor to be allowed to experience the nuances of this horse’s gentle, brilliant mind.
By the way, he has more respect for me as a competent rider now, usually responding smoothly and quickly to my increasingly coordinated riding signals.
This beautiful soul should never be saddled with a clumsy rider.
Louie, Casalae Farms’ handsome, elegant stable cat, has, I think, finally concluded that ambushing my dog is beneath him. Bryn is not a threat. Sir Cat comes right up to her, gives her the ‘Eye,’ but keeps his weapons sheathed. Bryn always looks away, disengaging herself mentally. She’s conflicted about cats, wanting to chase- and avoid them- at the same time. So she references me. As Alpha, I’ll shake my head. Centered then, she settles into ‘ignore.’
Louie, a graduate-level interpreter of canine minds, approves of this mental distancing-which, to him, probably infers deference. For now, he’s granted Bryn a (conditional) Visitor’s Pass.
I finished stall cleaning and brought Bryn into the arena to watch me ride.
Before I began the lesson, a pleased Menesson recognized Bryn and walked over to her. The two bumped noses. Louie noted the exchange with an inscrutable expression before retiring soundlessly to his snug nest in the main hall to nap.
I rode around the big arena, working on my posture and hand positions, when Menesson abruptly shied to the right, shocked by something that had whizzed by just over his head. I calmed him quickly; then my teacher and I looked around and then up: a sparrow was busily building a nest in the rafters!
I couldn’t fault my horse for his spooked lurch; he hadn’t seen or heard a bird for many icy months. Now, they’re popping up everywhere ‘cause spring is nearly here! Equines and avians will adapt quickly to each other as they find themselves living closer together.
And I’ll be in an excellent position to note how things evolve.
Live to learn!