Nancyeclark's Blog


I think I may finally, at the age of 53, found my true path in life. I am seriously considering going back to school. Whether that happens or not (and the reasons would be financial), I believe I must work with animals, in animal welfare, somehow, someway. I have seen, heard, watched and learned enough now to know that it is just as important as working to end poverty, injustice and cruelty anywhere…and those things will still be on the agenda too…but animals are truly where my future lies.

I believe that a society must be measured on the way it treats its most vulnerable…the children…the elderly…and the ones who have no voice of their own…the animals who share our lives, our communities, our supper table and our planet.

I have spent the last two years fostering cats and helping my local shelter, writing letters about whales, seals, cats, dogs, horses, burros, cows, slaughter, round ups and gathers etc., etc., etc.; urging legislation, signing petitions, joining groups, emailing, calling MPP’s, MP’s and Senators, Presidents and Congressmen and women, annoying friends and family and just generally dipping my feet into the pond.

I started this blog that no one reads and I do not have too much time for these days, I have learned about supportive care, sub-cu fluids, bottle feeding, hygiene, multi cat household issues, illness, diseases and viral shedding, disinfection, parasites, injuries, death and euthanization. Now I think it is time to back up my internet and library research and pestering of shelter workers, local vets and vet assist and vet techs…and become one of them.

I would like to learn more about the care of the animals I tend to and love, and maybe it would help me get a job at a shelter where I could make more of a difference than what I am doing now. What I would like to know is if you all think I am nuts to consider something like this at my stage of life. Comments are welcome.

waste not,want not…A food rant

That proverb, waste not, want not means If we don’t waste what we have, we’ll still have it in the future and will not lack or want it.

I learned this from my grandmother. My grandmother lived through the depression and was a farmer’s wife; she knew how to take care of precious things so they would last into the next generation. She knew how to re-use and recycle. She knew that helping your neighbour was the right thing to do and that if you had food you were lucky and if you had more than you needed, you shared it with those that didn’t. She is the reason I have boxes of all sizes in my closet, why I keep a collection of used ribbon and wrapping paper, why I have recycling embedded in my soul and leftovers in the fridge. She is the reason I do not like throwing anything out and feel so out of step with today’s world where everything seems disposable; appliances, pets, people and food.

My grandmother would be appalled at the waste in our world. When she grew up, things like oranges were special because they only appeared in the store once a year, and if her Mum & Dad were doing well enough, she would enjoy one in her Christmas stocking. You ate seasonally…the things you grew or the things in the store that were available during growing season.

Now we have food from all over the world  and in huge piles in our stores. If you could see how much of that food is wasted, you would understand my pain.

Hundreds of pounds of meat, cheese, frozen food, produce, thrown into dumpsters every day. Produce that isn’t perfect, so it is not saleable…food close or at it’s expiry date…things like bananas or meat someone decided they did not want partway through their shopping and so left it in the cereal aisle to rot. There is more food in our stores than they can actually sell…it is to produce an effect, a display of plenty…to make you buy.

“Studies have shown that 63 percent of the average supermarket’s waste is food. . In California alone, more than six million tons of food products are dumped annually. An estimated $20 billion worth of food is thrown away each year by supermarkets. Stores in the U.S. waste twice as much food annually as those in Europe, and a recent U.N. report found that total American food waste—including what we pitch from our refrigerators—is worth $48 billion each year.
Although federal and state laws protect grocers from liability, many stores expressed concerns that donated food could sicken recipients, even if it has yet to reach its expiration date. While some major chains donate food, others do not. Major retail grocery chains are more likely to throw away fruits, vegetables and even entire hams and roasts than donate to distribution centers.”

But it is not just stores…40 % of food waste occurred in our homes.

“Every month, residents in the city of Toronto (Canada), toss out 17.5 million kilograms of food. A recent British study determined that about one-third of food purchased in the UK is thrown out every year. This equates to £10bn (about CDN$19.5 billion). A 1997 U.S. study found that 27 per cent of edible food is never eaten. In Toronto, the picture is not all that different: single-family households produce an average of 275 kilograms of food waste each year. Twenty-five per cent of this food goes into the garbage. Most of it edible. Much of it still in its original packaging.” Worldvision

The problem is, that we are consumers and wasters of food, and yet we allow so many in our world to go hungry. And there are rules and standards that sometimes prevent us from helping. At a fundraiser I attended a while back, there was a large amount of food left over, good, well made, nutritious food…enough to give to the local food bank for several family’s meals…untouched food, but the containers had been opened, although not used. Because they had been opened…we were not allowed to give the food away, it had to be thrown away. It killed me to see so much food go to waste. I suppose I understand the concerns over opened containers, but we all knew it had not been touched or spoiled or contaminated in any way, and it hurt, physically hurt, to know it was wasted.

It hurts me to think about wasted food…and hungry people right here, in my backyard.

It hurts to know there are people dying from the lack of decent, nutritious food the world over…particularly in the Horn of Africa…one of the worst hit places by famine on our planet.

“The world produces enough food to feed every man, woman and child on earth. Hunger and malnutrition therefore are not due to lack of food alone, but are also the consequences of poverty, inequality and misplaced priorities.” – UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Kul C. Gautam

And yet, 30,000 children have died in the last 3 months in the Horn of Africa.

And yet, famine exists….what is famine?

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Reference Table (the standard used by the UN), famine occurs when the first three of the following conditions occur:

  • 20 percent of population has fewer than 2,100 kilocalories of food a day
  • 30 percent of children are acutely malnourished
  • Two deaths per 10,000 people, or four deaths per 10,000 children per day
  • Pandemic illness
  • Access to less than four liters of water per day
  • Large-scale displacement
  • Civil strife
  • Complete loss of assets and source of income

There are places still on this earth, where famine and drought exist, where the first three conditions exist, where all conditions exist, and people are dying from lack of food and clean water. It is obscene, when so many have so much, that so many have nothing.

The F Word

We see the bounty (and so much waste) in our stores and are bombarded by advertising for fast food and we do not know what it is like to be hungry, homeless and constantly at risk…we send food aid to countries without realizing that much of what we send is nutritionally deficient, particularly for children. We saddle poorer countries with so much debt they can never get out from under. We can and do so many good things…but there is so much more a species so intelligent and creative could carry out…needs to accomplish. We need to reconnect with our planet and the people on it, or we will never care enough to bring about the changes that must be made to save ourselves from ourselves.

Canada sends food aid around the world…so do many other countries…and that is a good thing…partly. So much of what we send is doing so little for the children who are starving, because what we send is nutritionally deficient and even with our help, children are malnourished and face the effects of that immediately and throughout their lives.

“Diets that do not provide the right blend of high-quality protein, essential fats, carbohydrates,vitamins and minerals can impair growth and development, increase the risk of death from common childhood illness, or result in life-long health consequences. Yet the cereal-based fortified flours donated as food aid do not meet these basic nutritional standards.

The Starved for Attention campaign hopes to rewrite the story of malnutrition, by convincing governments to ensure food aid also targets the specific needs of young children with adequate nutritional products.”

MSF, Medecins sans Frontieres or  Doctors Without Borders has launched a campaign, Starved for Attention, to try to ensure that world food aid actually nourishes and helps children who are starving. You can find out more at their website…

MSF Doctors Without Borders

Famine is obscene…so is the massive waste of food in richer countries.We need to do so much more for hungry people, here in our own country, on our own doorstep, and in our “global village”. We are responsible on every level, from what we buy and where we shop and what we waste right through to our neighbours and neighbouring countries to those who live a world away…they are on our global doorstep after all.

I really do think one of the reasons for humankind’s lack of stewardship of our planet, our technological advancement at the cost of something deeper and more meaningful, the problems we face as a species, are brought on, partly at least, by the continued urbanization of and lack of connection with nature. We live more and more, in places where you cannot see the stars, where you cannot truly see and feel the seasons, where foods are available year round from far, far away instead of being seasonal and local, where children do not know where their food comes from, what growing vegetables look like, who have never met a cow. We isolate ourselves further and further from our own world, the planet that nurtures us and which we rape and pillage daily. If we grow up knowing only that food comes from a store, how do we care about what it costs to produce it, how do we care about the loss of the family farm to huge conglomerates, how do we care about the death of honey bees, or the cruelty to the animals we eat or the underpaid workers who harvest our coffee and other crops. If gas just comes from a pump…how do we care about a faraway oil spill, the toxic waste in Alberta or Ecuador…the cost to our oceans and marine life…to our air and climate?

Even with the internet and television there are too many people who do not seem to care that children are dying from hunger and thirst in a world that has more than enough food and water for all. We demand that our food be available at all times and in huge supply and not too expensive. We consume far too much of the world’s supply of food, resources, and water. It is time to re-think our ways.

Take a moment or two today (and every day) to assess your own habits, to open your eyes to the plight of the hungry. Follow a link, read about hunger…look at the faces of the children…and of the parents who would provide if they could, but instead see their children starve. Sign a petition…write a letter…make a donation.

Waste is obscene. Famine is obscene…allow yourself to be disgusted…and then add your voice to all those hungering for change…and help.

Please get involved. Now, before it is too late for one more child.


I am sure we have all heard of the  “aww” factor, right? The cuteness, the sweetness that makes you go “aww!!! ”. The warm fuzzies. That is what everyone thinks of when I tell them I am fostering kittens…particularly baby kittens…orphans of a day old, or about a week old, or two weeks old…everyone  says ”aww”.  Everyone who has never done it that is.

4. hungry rodney

The reality about tiny baby kittens is the “oo” factor. As in poop, poop, poop and more poop.

Orphan kittens are the cutest things on the face of the planet. They are also one of the hardest things to feed, keep warm and keep alive. And then there’s the poop.

Orphans, depending on their age, need feeding every 2 hours at the start. They will take to a bottle or not. They will suck or not. They might like syringe feeding. Or not. Sometimes a dropper. Or not. It is all trial & error and a kitten happily sucking one minute will decide not to the next. And then there is the poop.

Orphan kittens need to be kept warm and dry. But not too warm. Hot water bottles need to be refreshed regularly, and heating pads need to be under lots of towels or blankies, so that there are no hot spots…and they need to be able to get away from the warmth if they need to…so there has to be part of their space that is cooler. Their blankets, or towels, or bedding needs to be checked often to be sure they are dry and just the right temperature. And then there is the poop.

Orphan kittens need to be weighed. Need to have a set amount of formula. No over feeding or under feeding. Underfeeding leads to yelling, restless babies. Overfeeding can cause diarrhea and other problems. They need to be burped after feeding. And cuddled. They need skin time and bonding and warmth and lots of love. And they need to poop.

Orphan kittens need to have their little bodies stimulated to pee and poop. Their mum would be doing it for them…so you have to take her place, with cotton pad, ball or washcloth instead of tongue…but the job is the same…to gently encourage them to produce pee and a least a poop a day or so. Never rub…you can irritate their fragile bits. Jiggling works a treat. And be sure to clean them afterwards…so they don’t get scald and so they smell good. A kitten who has a mum is kept immaculate…and we foster parents should keep them that way too. Cats and kittens like to be clean. Bathing is sometimes necessary. Not a lot of fun for either of you…but necessary.

And then there’s the poop. Regular poop should be brown and kind of jam-like….and if you are lucky…that is all you get. However, sometimes you get weird colours and textures and blood and mucus and other horrible things because there are so many things that can cause poop problems. Overfeeding. Formula too rich. Intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms or the protozoans; coccidia & giardia.Viral or bacterial infections: there are many, but two of the scariest are FIP & distemper. Allergies. Inflammatory bowel disease. Feline leukemia. Antibiotics. Toxins. Cancer. Diabetes. Some can be ruled out or in fairly easily…but sometimes you just don’t now and it becomes trial and error to fix the problem. Kittens, due to their immature immune systems are wide open to almost anything, sometimes inherited from their mother, sometimes not.

When all is normal in the poop department, thank your lucky stars. Because it so often isn’t normal. Very often very messy and very smelly. And you have to keep the babies clean…it is vital, because they can get scald, they do not smell good and because they cuddle and sometimes lick and suck on each other…you have to not let them keep re-infecting themselves. Besides, it is harder to snuggle, kiss and love a sticky, smelly baby.

When you are raising baby kittens…you have to keep them clean, dry, warm but not too warm, hydrated and nourished. All of these can be huge challenges at times. And the younger the baby is…the harder it is to even keep them alive, much less thriving.

The tiniest, the youngest will not have had enough or any of their mum’s colostrum. They often do not suck well. And if kittens do develop poop issues…keeping them hydrated is difficult…they lose fluid so quickly.

This is not intended as a “go to” instruction manual for babies. It is just my observations of some of the things you might face when trying to hand raise kittens. And in my estimation, it is the “oo” factor which causes the most puzzlement, headaches, grief and heartache.

Sometimes everything goes swimmingly…you heave a sigh of relief when they get to about 16 weeks old and they get spay/neutered and go on to their new lives. Hopefully long and happy ones. Sometimes it goes only partly bad. You spend all your time trying to figure out the poop problems and trying to keep them tidy. Sometimes you lose a baby (or more)…cry a lot, work harder (as if that were possible) on those that remain, cry some more and rejoice when they get over it and grow and thrive. Sometimes they are the litter that makes you want never to do this again…to believe you cannot cry any more tears…that you are the worst foster mum ever…that  god does not exist or these things would not happen to innocents like this…that vets are useless…that you will never recover from the grief…and that no one will ever ask you to do this again, because you have just killed a litter of kittens. Because if all hell breaks loose, and kittens die…you will blame yourself, even if it is in no way your fault. Sometimes you will know why it happened…and sometimes you do not get any answers…it just happens despite your fervent prayers and diligence and love and medicine and whatever else you tried to save them…shelter visits, CPR, syringe feeding, tube feeding, antibiotics,anti-virals, sub-Q fluids, hot water bottles, emergency vet visits, all the supportive care in the world….even making bargains with the devil…sometimes there is not a damn thing you can do. Kittens die sometimes.

But you swallow hard and find the resolve to do it again…and again…because when all goes well, there is incredible joy and satisfaction in seeing these wee things nurse and snuggle and grow and thrive. There is so much joy in watching their personalities blossom. I cannot tell you how deeply it affects me to have the whole litter sitting in my lap, looking at me with love, tapping my face with their soft little paws and purring to beat the band. My heart sings! And there is seeing them spayed or neutered and head off into their new lives with their forever families. It is supremely satisfying to know they would not have had that outcome if it were not for you. Fostering kittens is about hard work, long hours, a weird fascination with poop, fun, love, joy, sadness, silliness, heartache, awe and wonder and lots and lots of smiles and laughter. It really is all about the “oo” factor…but when it works…it is also about the “aww” factor.


The Following is an article I wrote for the OSPCA Magazine ‘Animals’ Voice” – part of which appeared in the most recent edition.

This is the full article…

Fostering: A Win, Win, Win Situation

By Nancy E. Clark

Dedicated to Fingal, Finlay, Fiona, Darla, Eden, Lilith, Libby, Cain, Abel, Bib, Bailey, Quince, Baldric, Garnet, Domino, Bramble, Zorra, Echo, Julia, Mighty Mouse, Thor, Keiko, Youko, Jet, Smokey, Addy, Teddy, Sally, Juliet, Spook, Robin, and all the fosters who have allowed me to share a small part of their lives.

I began fostering cats for the Lennox & Addington OSPCA in 2008, because I love animals, cats in particular, and I wanted to help them and my local shelter; I had time and love to give, but not a lot of money. I am also lucky enough to have a husband who is patient and kind and helpful; and a room or two I can close off to isolate the newcomers for the duration of their stay, or just until it is a good time to introduce them to the general population. We have a large family of cats of our own…spayed, neutered and up to date on all their shots. All but 3 (rescues) are shelter cats, adopted over many years and ranging in age from 1 to 12. I taught my children to be wary of strangers, but my cats have had to learn to be open and accepting of strangers and patient with kittens. After I began fostering, I realized that not only is it an important (and mostly unrecognized) part of saving animals…but the wonder of birth, the delight & pride in a blossoming personality, the amusement afforded by cats of all shapes and sizes and the downright hilarity of their antics at times…makes the job so satisfying I may never stop.

Usually it is pregnant mums who arrive at our house in Selby…a few hours, days or weeks before they deliver or just after the babies are born. Sometimes it is right smack dab in the middle of delivery, as in the case of Eden, who went into labour in the carrier on the way home and had her first kitten an hour and a half later. Quite the introduction!

The expectant/new mums are given a room which is as comfortable and clean as I can make it…with various ‘nesting’ boxes and bins so they can choose a comfortable place to have/keep their babies. The closet is the most popular spot, with a towel-lined plastic bin inside and a curtain over the opening. There is clean water and food nearby and a fresh litter box. When given the time (prior to birth), I spend time with the mums…earning their trust and building a bond that will allow me to keep track of their health and that of their litter…and to help mum be calm and happy and eat well for the babies and to begin building on her adoptability for the future.

Occasionally it is a feral/semi feral or timid cat or kitten we have to work with and socialize…lots of patience, baby food and play required, but it’s one of the best feelings in the world when they come out of hiding and let you stroke them and eventually encourage their personalities to blossom. It’s the same feeling I had when my step-daughter trustingly took my hand the first time.

Fostering is defined as “to promote the growth of, to help develop, to afford, receive or share nourishment; the foster person stands in the relation of parent, etc., as regards sustenance and nurture, but not by tie of blood.” (or species in this respect)

Nourishment is not enough, however…but nurture comes close. Webster’s Dictionary includes this: To Nurture, Nourish, Cherish. Nourish denotes to supply with food, or cause to grow; as, to nourish a plant. To nurture is to train up with a fostering care, like that of a mother; as, to nurture into strength; to nurture in sound principles. To cherish is to hold and treat as dear; as, to cherish hopes or affections. [1913 Webster]

I really like that definition…nurture, nourish, cherish. That’s the foundation of why and how I foster. To provide a warm, safe home, proper nutrition, clean litter boxes, exercise, playtime and training. To schedule (and show up for) shots and de-worming and surgeries, to provide supportive care to the ill, to ask for vet care if needed, to apply or give medicines, to be the parent the animal deserves. To work with the staff at the shelter to keep everyone as healthy as possible. But it is so much more than that, it is also the cherishing…to hold dear, love, snuggle, be endlessly patient with, to fight for them like a mother, but accept the inevitable if it comes, to grieve for them when they leave, to give them all you can to give them a fighting chance at a long, happy, contented life…because it may break your heart many times over, but fostering gives you transports of joy, much love, and satisfaction on a massive scale…healing the heartbreak and drying your tears.

It is the cherishing that is both the easiest and the hardest part of the job…and probably the most misunderstood part…the animals are both yours and not yours…and that can cause the odd moment of friction between the staff and me.

Fostering cats and kittens is a marvellous and wonderful experience, full of laughter and smiles. Having babies in the house is a constant wonder…touching, hysterically funny at times and always new…because even if they are not people…kittens and cats are individuals…each completely unique. Watching them grow from tiny eating/sleeping machines into lively, happy and distinctive personalities is a privilege and a pleasure. Normally, all you have to do is the basics of nourish, nurture and cherish. You bring them up; play with them, teach them manners (at least some), live with a chronically messy house because kittens will chase and play and leave your towels on the floor, your every nook and cranny explored and their toys on the stairs. Kittens, until taught what not to do, will get into all that they can find in hopes it is play-able…so kitten proofing starts at floor level and gets steadily higher as they grow. All too soon, they have their first shots etc. and then their surgeries, they go up for adoption and you send them off to their new people with lots of tears and a huge smile.

That, by the way, is my favourite part of fostering, waving goodbye as my “children” head off into their new life…that and cuddling babies of course.

But occasionally things go very wrong. Julia, for example, had 4 babies, all extremely sick from day 2 on. We had to euthanize Mighty Mouse and Thor within days…Keiko survived to 6 weeks and then began to suffer breathing problems and we lost her too. Youko survived against all the odds and is doing well at 9 months…adopted out and happy. Then there are all the other problems that can crop up…parasites, viruses like Calici, Herpes and Corona: the problem often lies with the mum, having no idea of her exposures or carrier status, and whether my own cats can spread/catch viruses they may or may not have been exposed to years ago; as careful as you are with hand washing, disinfection and isolation…things happen. I find it hard to give up even when I know in my heart there is no hope. Henny Venus, the Shelter’s Manager and the staff have been wonderful in this respect, helping me learn to recognize the point at which to say…enough. To always recognize that these creatures are my responsibility, yes, and that I love them, yes, but they are OSPCA cats, and I must respect their experience and decision making. I think that is the hardest part of fostering…remembering always that these animals are mine in every sense of the word, except in actual fact. When you love them, it feels that they are only yours. And you have to love them to let them flower and flourish. Henny has always been kind to me in this respect, simply pointing out to me the things I know in my heart to be true, and allowing me to feel involved.

Fostering can be fun and easy and rewarding. It can be painful and hard but still rewarding. It is the luck of the draw. We have had both kinds…with the good ones vastly outnumbering the tough ones. Good or bad, happy or sad, it is a job worth doing…for them and for me.

Working with Henny and Heather and Rebecca, Haili, Jackie and Meghan and Bernice (before she retired) and the volunteers has been, overall, a wonderful experience. They are skilled and kind and supportive. They are also extremely patient with me, as I tend to be a pain in the butt kind of foster parent…perhaps over protective and sometimes unsure of my own knowledge, ability and experience. I have learned so much from them and enjoy working with them always.

There are so many good things about fostering. It brings me volumes of love and affection, it allows me to help animals get their chance at a good life, it has taught me lessons in care, in training, in teamwork, in gratitude, in life, love and letting go. I have learned discipline and sacrifice and not to mind cat hair everywhere and that kittens can be very, very bad…cute but bad. I have learned to respect and admire the people at the OSPCA and the often unrecognized difficult job they do for all the animals our society abandons, abuses, surrenders and neglects.

There are questions about fostering that may make you reluctant to start. Is it time consuming? Sometimes. Does it require some financial input? Yes, it can…with toys and litter and food…although many shelters provide food, and they all look after the medical stuff. Is it wrong to take in or raise an animal, bond with it, love it, and then see it adopted out into a stranger’s home? Isn’t that abandonment?

Well, yes it is…BUT…unless you plan on keeping every single foster animal…which would be impossible…being fostered can give the cat or kitten a much better chance at a wonderful forever home: a stray, a timid animal, an injured one or the new lives, the kittens, get to learn that people are gentle & kind, that cuddling and playing are encouraged, that food will never be in short supply, that there are soft, warm places to nap when you are tired. The socialization they receive makes them happier and that makes them much more adoptable. The whole idea behind sheltering and fostering is to find these animals homes…good homes for the rest of their lives. Adopting them out does provide some stress and distress for these animals…but ultimately it is the best ending for them, and they will soon learn to love & trust their new family…if we have done our job and taught them that people are good companions. We can help to make the match between animal and home the right one….so there should be fewer problems and fewer returns.

Fostering takes animals out of the shelter and the stresses inherent in that environment and gives them a happy home to grow up in or live and learn in, while they wait for the right person or family to come along and fall in love with them. Foster parents can learn so much about an animal’s personality and behaviour that they can help potential adopters decide if the adoptive animal is going to be a good match…because even using wonderful programs like SAFER or the OSPCA’s Feline-ality, it cannot tell you as much about them, because animals do not behave like themselves in shelters as much as they do in a home environment.

If you like or love animals…cats, dogs…whatever…if you have some space, time and love…if you like the idea of helping unwanted ones find homes…if you would like to foster an animal…please contact your local OSPCA branch or affiliate…your local shelter, rescue or humane society. You will fill out some forms and answer some questions, and they may come and take a look at your accommodations. Fostering can give you an idea of the kind of pet you want, if you do not currently have one, and it is temporary…not a life-long commitment (at first). Fostering is a wonderful way to help many animals instead of just one or two. You will change your life and that of the animals in your care for the better, and I am sure you will never regret your decision to open up your home—and your heart.

Nevada Continues War Against Wild Horses

Nevada Continues War Against Wild Horses.

Chasing Tails


It twitches…he watches with huge eyes…tensed, waiting to pounce. It stops, holds still for a moment then very slowly starts to sway…back and forth…a white waving flag…he watches, waits for just the right moment…then attacks, grabs it, bites it, kills it. Relaxes and blinks at me. There is satisfaction on his wee face. Then…it moves again…just a small jerk…and the stalking begins again. It goes on for ages…and it never dies…he just tires of the game eventually and his eyes close and he snuggles in for a nap.

As I sit here watching Fingal on my lap chasing his tail and chuckling over his antics…it gets me wondering about body image/body awareness/body schema and something called proprioception…sometimes known as kinesthesia, and also about imagination and play. I watch a kitten with its tail…and it is as if the tail is a separate entity…not under their control…it seems at times to belong to someone else…to be a creature unknown to them. That is where proprioception begins to wander through my brain.

Darla, Fingal,Finlay & Fiona (57)

As I understand it, there are 3 main types of senses. Exteroceptive senses; the ones that keep us conscious of the outside world and its interaction with us (skin, eyes, ears etc), interoceptive senses; with which we perceive pain in and movement of internal organs, and the proprioceptive senses. Proprioception is a sensory system that provides feedback solely on the status of our bodies. Proprioception is from the Latin proprius, meaning "one’s own" and perception. It is defined as your sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of your own body. It is the sense that lets us know whether our bodies are moving appropriately with the effort we are making, as well as where the various parts of our body are located in relation to each other and to space. Proprioception and kinesthesia are sometimes used interchangeably, but are really quite different. Kinesthesia has more to do with motion and can exist where proprioception is lost.  For example, an inner ear infection could disturb our sense of balance which would erode our proprioceptive sense, but not our kinesthetic sense. You would be able to walk, but only by using sight to maintain your balance; you would be unable to walk with your eyes closed.

Kinesthesia is a key component in muscle memory and hand-eye coordination, and training can improve it. Your ability to swing a golf club or a bat, to catch a ball or dance the macarena or a pas de deux, needs a finely tuned sense of the position of your body and all its joints and limbs in relation to themselves, each other and in space. All this needs to become automatic (through training/repetition) to let us concentrate on the other aspects of performance; seeing/knowing  where other people or objects are, maintaining focus and motivation, expressing the emotion and gaiety of dance. Without the relevant integration of proprioceptive signals, as an artist, I  wouldn’t be able to put paint to paper without watching my hand as it moves the brush; it would be impossible to drive a car because you would not be able to steer or use the foot pedals while looking at the road ahead. You would not even be able to walk without watching where you put your feet.

This gets me thinking about my mother, who had undiagnosed and untreated diabetes for several years, allowing diabetic neuropathy to get a good strong foothold before she began treatment, and so she now has very little feeling in her feet (apart from the pain of the neuropathy), and uses sight to know where her feet are and to enable her to walk. She has trouble walking in the dark. She has also had 4 strokes, leaving her with impaired balance, and uses, again, sight, to help her maintain her equilibrium, also more difficult for her in low light. Her fingers have little sensation left and without looking at what she is doing, she often drops things because she cannot tell where her fingers are. The sense of where our bodies are and how we are moving them and attached to them is a body awareness of very precious, no, priceless value. Neurologist Oliver Sacks is one of the many who have written about loss of this awareness in his patients and in himself too…in the book “A Leg to Stand On”, which raises “profound questions of the physical basis of identity.”

This also gets me thinking about our little cat, Belle, who suffered head, neck and chest trauma at 6 weeks of age and now has neurological deficits, and physical ones, as a result. She has never grown properly, at almost 2 she is the size of a 14 week old…her legs are small and thin and not as well muscled as they should be although her body is quite stocky (partly our fault for letting her get a tad heavy). Belle’s face and head are a mix of the kitten and the adult…her head is quite small…her eyes in relation…large. She has kidney issues and has never matured sexually. She has also been left with tremors which worsen as she relaxes. Watching her recover from her injuries as a kitten was fascinating…she had to learn how to do things that came quite naturally to her littermates…running…playing…jumping. She learned to do most of these things quite well…but you could see her think about them before doing them, and learn from each mistake…unlike the others who just did those things almost without thought or effort. Her muscle tremors make her move differently from other cats, and she must cope with her body twitching even more as she relaxes…I wish I knew more about how she feels about all this. And how she views herself. I know she is not as playful or as physical as other cats…and I believe the trauma affected her not only neurologically in terms of her growth and physical effects, but in her sense of imagination and play. She never became a truly active and playful kitten. She does however grab the biggest toy she can find and carry it around the house yelling and calling and occasionally will play with Cheerios on the floor…still with coordination deficits that tire her quickly. What she thinks of all this I do not know…but she is a growly girl, impatient with others, protective of her space and food and does not like being handled much, although curled in my lap is where you will often find her.

Our older cat,Tucker, has what I and our vet think is Feline Hyperesthesia or Rippling Skin Disorder. His back will start to move and twitch and ripple of its own accord…he will lick hard at it, snap and bite at it and is often chased by it around the house. He is getting crankier with it each day. As I watch him react to it, I wonder what it feels like and I wonder about how he seems to think he can run away from his own body and its movement and discomfort. Luckily, he has not done damage to himself yet, as some cats with the disorder do…we are trying treatment before it gets to that stage.

Proprioception is awareness of one’s body in space, really. Where it is and what it is doing or not doing. The feeling of wholeness and connection in the physical. Sitting here, I do not have to look to know where my toes are, or what is happening within and without my body….and I know how lucky I am. I do wonder what ‘Phantom Limb” must be like…for those amputees who can still feel their missing limbs…and I wonder what it must be like to have all your body…but lose touch with it. There are many different causes of that loss; MS, viral infections, tumours, vitamin deficiencies…I wonder about people with proprioceptive losses and then about animals and their body map and how to tell when their schema is not working properly.

Placing reflexes are used to test human neurological responses and the same goes for animals. There are two frequently used placing reflexes; tests which allow your vet to assess the proprioceptive abilities of cats (and dogs) in particular. The first test is to lift an animal and bring the anterior/dorsal (front/top) surface of a paw up to a table edge. Normally a cat will position its paw onto the surface properly. The second (sometimes called the proprioceptive positioning reflex)  is when the dorsal, or top surface, of the paw is placed onto a surface; a healthy animal will flick it back up to be in the normal position. If it cannot do this it implies that there is either a motor deficit or damage to the sensory pathways for proprioception, or damage to the centres of the brain which would normally integrate this response. “These centres would include the cerebellum, and possibly portions of the cerebrum. The evidence for the involvement of the cerebellum comes, in part, from the fact that cerebellar ataxia can lead to a loss of this particular reflex. The reflex is sometimes referred to as a "response", allowing for possible conscious cerebral influence of the action.” (with apologies to Wiki)

So, what do cats think and feel? Why do they chase their tails? How do they see it and understand it? I understand the fascination with another cat’s tail…but how can you lie there and all of a sudden see your own tail as a separate thing…a toy you can chase in circles or just attack and pounce on when it twitches?

I have looked on the interweb and found some interesting answers to the question of why cats chase their tails…

It is OCD

it is worms in their butts

it can cause epilepsy

it is a form of epilepsy

it is very bad

These are some of the reasons offered for tail chasing in cats.

First…let me say…I am not a vet…I am just voicing an opinion as a cat person of more than 40 years experience.

I don’t believe any of the above are the answer as to why my little 11 week old chases his tail…but they may have validity if you have a cat that chases its tail too much.

If it were an OCD related behaviour in Fingal, surely it would be a more constant, possibly frenetic behaviour, like OCD in people. As I suffer from OCD myself…checking, counting, repetition etc…it doesn’t seem to me an OCD-like behaviour. Worms my cats do not have…and they tend to lick their anal region (butts) as opposed to chasing their tails. I am pretty sure you cannot cause epilepsy that way, but I believe it could be part of a complex partial seizure in a cat. Unless it is damaging to the cat’s tail or to its psyche or it becomes a constant behaviour…it probably is not very bad.

What I believe you have to do is be aware of your cat and its behaviour…and demeanour…is the chasing constant? or just occasional? Is there biting or damage to the tail or skin? If there is, get your cat checked out by a vet. There is something called Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome or Rippling Skin Disorder that can cause a cat to attack itself…tail, skin etc. and pull out fur and damage itself…this is serious and needs a vet. There are other medical reasons for tail chasing…skin issues, tail injuries etc. The important thing is to know your cat’s behaviour…you can often tell if it is a happy chase or the kind caused by something bothering the skin or tail. You have to know that kittens will chase their tails occasionally from the time they are old enough to see and reach their tails and that adult cats will also chase their tails occasionally…if it becomes an obsessive or harmful behaviour or if your cat is showing signs of discomfort or if it is something he/she has never done before…you would need to be concerned.  But a cat’s playful, happy enjoyment and fascination with its tail, and chasing it or playing with it is usually harmless fun and a treasured event in our house, because kittens do seem to grow out of it…as they get older it appears to become less fun for them and we only see a tail chase infrequently.

Cats may see things, including their own bodies, differently from us…but when it comes to imagination…I am not sure they are much different from me or you. Scientists, theorists, psychologists…in fact most of the ists…seem to think that imagination and the ability to pretend is limited to humans and possibly some primates. Ask any cat owner…and the anecdotal evidence of imagination and pretense in cats is overwhelming. I’m not talking just about the pretend hunting they do to hone their skills…but the knocking down of things on the shelf above the bed when deciding it is awake time and breakfast time and pretending they have nothing to do with the falling items or even trying to blame it on another cat. There is the “I meant to do that” pretend, when a “gymnastic” event goes horribly wrong or they somehow embarrass themselves. Pretending not to know their best friend and littermate even though they were just having a lickfest. Not realizing, or pretending not to notice when hiding from you, that the only thing actually hidden is their shoulders and head. Pretending (or hoping) they are a size 2 when truly a 16, because the box they are attempting to sleep in is smaller than their butts. Our poor mum who has never lost her baby weight, indulges in this fantasy quite often.

Cats would seem to have imaginations and they do love to play…as kittens and as adults. Play is an important interaction with your cat…because interactive playing lets your cat practice his hunting skills: seeing and defining the target, practicing the stealth needed to approach, the pounce, and the satisfaction gained from the kill. Whether it is your toes under the covers, a string on a stick or a toy mouse…the hunt is a vital component in play for and with your cat. Playing can help your cat maintain a healthy weight by exercising under-used muscle and brain, and it can be a very positive way for your cat to release lots of negative energy and even aggression.

Interactive play strengthens the bond between you and your cat, and play can help a shy or timid cat gain confidence in itself and in you. A vigorous play session is a good way to ease your cat’s transition into a new home. You can use play to help introduce cats to each other and soften the newness and strangeness between them.

For cats in shelters and rescues…playtime can be vital in maintaining mental health and well-being and helps to socialize them and strengthen the animal/human bond.

So from musing about body schema to musing about crinkle balls and toes under blankets…I have realized that cats, although I cannot talk to them, still have the ability to make me think, and learn. They also make me wish I had my own tail to chase.

Why Horses ? kind of an update…
March 30, 2011, 8:14 pm
Filed under: horses | Tags: , , , , ,

They have given us so much. Pulled our plows, carried our worldly goods, carried us, broadened our horizons, gone to war with us, given us milk and food, entertained us with their speed and skill, rounded up our cattle, pulled our boats and wagons, turned the mills; the mail was their province, their speed, stamina endurance and strength ours. They have enchanted us with their beauty and intelligence and spirit, rewarded us with their loyalty. They enthral us with their wild spirit and ability to survive.

We have used them and abused them. Bred them for size and shape, speed and strength, agility and pace. We have shaped them to fit our needs and wants. We have raced them, ridden them, terrified our enemies with them, traded them, eaten them, taken their milk and foals,  cossetted them, starved them, rounded them up and turned them into dog food, worshipped and revered them. They are symbols of beauty and freedom and yet we treat them so damn badly. We overbreed them, we stand them in stalls forever pregnant to produce the hormones that keep our aging at bay, we race them after breeding them for speed at the loss of bone and then put them down when their bones break. We round them up from land and air, terrified and hurt, we fence them from water, we use them for target practice, we protect them by law and then treat them like pests…and no one gives a damn because it doesn’t affect our pocket books. Little girls love them…books and stories and movies are made about them. Their names are part of our culture…Misty…Black Beauty…Flicka…The Black… Our history would be very different without them. We were carried into the frontier by them, and what do we give them in return….crops and whips, starvation and abuse, roundups where foals die and mares abort and dehydration kills, and then send them to god knows where…the end is often a harrowing and horrific transport to an inhumane and awful death at a Mexican or Canadian slaughter house.

What we owe to horses is a debt so big we can never pay it…yet pay they do. We owe them respect, love, affection, food, water, exercise, green grass, flowing water, land to roam on. We owe them decent stabling, exercise, company and not to be over worked or discarded. We owe them a life of fulfillment and peace. They can still work with us, entertain us, enchant us and carry us over jumps and round racetracks…but with care and respect and humanity. We can let the wild ones be free…let them have the land intended for them, allow them access to water, stop seeing them as pests and grazing stealers. Allow the wild ones, the ones that trace their bloodlines in part back to the Conquistadors, the protection and freedom that the bill of 1971 says they should have in the United States and the protection they do not have but should have here in Canada. Politicians in Canada and the States should be ashamed of themselves when they look at the sate of the wild horse, the state of horses in general. In Canada we cannot even agree that they are wild…only feral and not worth protecting…so any Tom Dick or Harry can round them up or shoot them or abuse them…so much so, there are almost none left…about 800 in all. In the States the horses and burros are at least protected by law…but the protectors are now the abusers. In Canada, our oh so kind and gentle and smug land, we slaughter horses for the world…Japan, Belgium, France…and we do it in a way that no animal should ever have to suffer…see the video available from inside a slaughter house. We have rules governing their transport to slaughter…so much headroom on double decker trucks, and yet no one enforces the rules; horses end up injured, maimed and dead before they ever reach the place where they die a horrific, inhumane and terribly cruel death.

What did the horse ever do to deserve any of this? Granted, you cannot curl up on a sofa with one or take them for a drive and a game of fetch…but they are a companion animal more than they are livestock. If you want to argue that point…that livestock are for eating, I mean…but that is for another day. Horses have families in the wild, social structure, communication; they live in groups with specific hierarchies and rules and familial associations…they nurture their young and grieve their losses. Horses befriend us and work with us and provide us with companionship as well as offering up their size, strength and speed. We would not be where we are today without the horse and yet we continue to abuse them on all fronts…by overbreeding and discarding them, by seeing them as competition for grazing on land that was supposed to be for them and not for cattle, by allowing competitions like horse tripping and abuse like soring…there are so many horrible things we do to an animal that deserves none of it…it amazes me sometimes that the news isn’t filled with stories of horses fighting back…horse militias gathering weapons…marauding gangs of horse youths…marches…placard carrying protestors….petitions……..wait a minute…horses cannot do that for themselves….we have to do it for them. So get involved (you will find some links here at this blog)…write your MP, your Representative…sign all the petitions out there…join an Advocacy group…call the White House…get going and get moving before it is too late for the wild ones…before any more horses are eaten in your local restaurant…before another truckload passes you on the highway…………