What Kind of Animal Is It?

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I offer programs on emergency pet prep. and critter body language.  I have a new offering that delves into the he confusing world of different critter classifications.

There are an average of 150 million pet cats and dogs in this country but many animal lovers share their homes with other species ranging from hamsters to bunnies, amphibians and reptiles.  Of course many outdoor dwellers are loved and cherished just as dearly and may, by their guardians, be considered pets - be they chickens, piglets, goats, or horses.

In this sense, a label is, very much, in the eye of the beholder.  For many, ‘companion’ animals refer to household pets and the veterinary industry tends to use them interchangeably.  But there are several other classifications of animals that can be even more confusing.

Most people are familiar with seeing eye and even hearing ear dogs that assist those who are vision or hearing impaired.  But there are, in reality, all kinds of ‘working’ animals!  Many – but not all of them – help people with disabilities.  Of course, there’s a lot of different kinds of disabilities; sometimes they are easy to see but often they’re hidden.

‘Service’ animals are trained to do specific tasks for their people.  Sometimes, but not always, they’re highly trained and it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to get them ready for service; others are trained by their own person.  There’s no certification that makes an animal a ‘service’ animal; the term comes from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  And, as of a few years ago, it limits ‘service’ animals to dogs and sometimes miniature horses.  The ADA affords people who require the help of service animals to have their animals accompany them where ordinary ‘pets’ are not allowed to go like businesses and restaurants.  Businesses can only ask if the animal is a ‘service’ animal and what tasks it’s trained to do.  They can’t force the animal to show it or get nosey about the person’s medical condition, but they do have the right to expect the animal to be well behaved and can ask the person to remove the animal if it makes a mess.  <Learn more here.>

In the housing industry, which I worked in and around for nearly twenty years, housing laws are very different.  The Fair Housing Act is much broader and does not include the training requirement that the ADA does.  Here the words ‘assistance’ animal are typically used, but it doesn’t really matter what the animal is called.  Most any critter can be an ‘assistance’ animal – not just dogs and cats, but gerbils, bunnies, snakes…  I’m even come across tales of a renowned assistance iguana and an assistance opossum!  Under this law any animal that does just about anything for a person with a disability legally isn’t a ‘pet.’  Examples such as ‘depression kitties’ and other ‘emotional support’ animals used for lots of different conditions including the PTSD warriors may suffer from and the trauma of rape others deal with.  Housing providers who don’t ordinarily allow ‘pets’ very often must allow ‘assistance’ animals through a process called reasonable accommodation and verification.  <Learn more here.>

Some people refer to those ‘emotional support’ animals as simply ‘support’ animals and even ‘companion’ animals.  And some people call ‘service’ and ‘assistance’ animals ‘pets’ by mistake.  And there are yet other ‘working’ animals that aren’t necessarily protected by laws such as ‘therapy’ animals – everything from dogs to llamas – that are invited to visit nursing homes and hospitals.  Other ‘therapy’ animals assist survivors following traumatic events like mass shootings or natural disasters.  Yet other working animals help different professionals such as police K9 dogs, different kinds of search and rescue animals, and of course security dogs.

The crux of the matter is context – what industry you’re in or which set of laws are in play.  Of course, it can be impossible to tell if a critter’s an ordinary ‘pet’ or not because there’s nothing that necessarily marks an animal as one described by this law or that.  There’s no definitive registry of disability-related or other ‘working’ animals; specialty vests are easy to come by; and the various laws in question don’t require any certification.

It is one of those things in life that’s more complex than most ever imagine.  What’s shameful is that some people actually abuse the laws designed to protect those who really need it.  On the other hand, it’s wonderful that so many critters have such important jobs, especially those that offer a variety of aid to those with all kinds of disabilities.

I have rash of winter classes coming up this term across the metro area, including ‘What Kind of Animal – Service, Therapy, or Pet?’ on January 31st at Chemeketa in Salem.  If you’re interested in this or any of my critter classes visit www.JoBecker.weebly.com/animals-in-disasters.html for details.


Jo Becker is an Oregon-based speaker and writer who takes an entertaining, personable approach to educating audiences and readers.  Regardless of topic or industry, Jo’s aim is to inform, empower, and inspire with historical and relatable context, understandable concepts, and bottom line considerations. www.JoBecker.weebly.com/animals-in-disasters.html

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed Encounters

Tradition reminds us to count our blessings this time of year.  One of the blessings at the top of my personal list is one I’m sure Spot readers will second:  the joy I derive from critter encounters.

However, those encounters are only as good as the communication between us. How exactly do you convey and read thoughts and emotions without a shared language?  Indeed, human communication between two people speaking the same, native tongue is difficult enough.

It turns out that 93% of human communication is nonverbal.  Clearly, it’s more than just what we say!  Indeed, we use stance, gesture, expressions, other forms of body language (55%), as well as tone of voice (38%).

If you want to manage and master interspecies communication, it helps to know that the same principle applies not only to humans; it holds across the animal kingdom.  The truth is animals are conversing with us all the time; sadly, we don’t speak their lingo, pick up on their body language, or mind the cues and warnings they give. 

Perhaps worse, many people fail to realize that we’re conveying volumes to them.  Without being aware or mindful of our own body language and innate traits, we often give off a massive mess of mixed messages.  Our intentions may be good – to cuddle or comfort – and, personally, I believe critters can read our energy, if not our precise intensions.  But as we approach an animal it automatically sizes up the situation, including the environment, any escape routes available to it, as well as how well it knows and trusts you.  They also notice your body language and inherent predator traits, as well as the degree to which you’re ‘acting like the predator’ you are.

A common example is misreading (or missing all together) ‘whale eyes.’  In the book, For the Love of a Dog, author Patricia McConnell explains the term whale eyes originated with an observation that the eyes of whales show the whites no matter in which direction their head is pointing.  A whale eye expression in a dog can, at times, look simply cute and adorable; but there’s a part of us that knows instinctively that the dog is insecure in the given situation.  We know intellectually that we mean the animal no harm – but they don’t, given the mess of mixed signals we’re transmitting.

What that look is really saying is, “I’m really nervous here.  I don’t want to be aggressive but I’ll defend myself if I have to.  Please give me some space.”  We very often swoop in to comfort, cuddle, and console when we see that would-be cute expression (if we notice the look at all), which only serves to:

1.      confirm the aggressive or domineering behavior the dog was afraid of;

2.      reduce the animal’s personal space; and

3.      diminish its escape routes.

At that point, feeling cornered and as if it has no other options, the dog attacks reactionarily.

By being oblivious to how our predator traits influence our day-to-day body language and failing to read cues, we miss the entire exchange.  In just this way we very often come across as (unwittingly and) inconsistently aggressive.  Then we’re confused, offended, and shocked when the critter reacts defensively to protect itself, its territory, its personal space, or its ‘pack.’  The animal is labeled “bad” and scolded, or worse.  Yet it was we who didn’t head the warnings.  It’s we who forced the situation and prompted the attack.

I believe we have a responsibility (to our own safety as well as to the animal) to be conscious of what we convey, and to educate ourselves how to properly read critters’ communications and cautions.  In so doing, we can minimize disastrous encounters and increase the number of blessed encounters with other species.

To learn more consider joining me at an awareness level critter body language class this winter at a local community college.  Find one here:  www.JoBecker.weebly.com/upcoming-classes.html.

In the meantime, happy holidays to your and yours, including your furry, feathered, or other four-legged family members.


Jo Becker is a Portland, Oregon-based speaker and freelance writer.  A seasoned presenter, she’s given animal-related talks since 2012.  Jo’s classes on preparedness (Animals-In-Disaster) and critter body language (Deciphering Doggie Dialects, Cracking the Kitty Code, & Honing Your Horse Sense) offer unique perspectives and practical resources. 

Jo takes an entertaining, personable approach to a ‘doom and gloom’ subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and to better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated pet mom and surrogate livestock handler when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.

Learn more, register for classes, and sign up for free eNews at www.JoBecker.weebly.com.

Stock Up While It’s on Sale!

The holiday season’s approaching and retailers know it!  As families and friends gather for festive feasts, grocery and retail stores are marking down items that often form the foundation of those feasts but they can also help sustain you should disaster strike.

Whether it’s a winter storm, extended power outage, or evacuation following a nearby chemical spill or major natural event such as an earthquake, tornado, tsunami, or hurricane, it’s not a matter of if, but when something will happen; something that will impact you and those you love including your four-legged friends!

I encourage and challenge you to start a new tradition this holiday season.  Take advantage of seasonal savings to gather shelf-stable staples and other supplies to begin (or replace outdated items) in your emergency supply kit.  Pre-Thanksgiving sales often feature canned veggies and other culinary supplies.  At the same time, other retails are marking down blankets and comforters – also useful to have on hand in an emergency.  You’ll soon find making goods on sale with the greatest discounts the week before Christmas.

You may make this an annual event and plan to restock supplies each winter by cycling out food items before they expire and go bad (and what a great time to donate them to a local food bank!), or… plan to stock up on various items throughout the year based on the savings you find at different times.  For example:

  • In January you’ll find coats, scarves, gloves, hats, and boots marked down.
  • In June hardware and home fix-it tools and materials are discounted.
  • BBQ and picnic foods go on sales in July.
  • Fresh produce is least expensive in August – which is useful if canning, drying, and the like is your deal – followed by canned food in September if you aren’t inclined to do-it-yourself.

Of course, this blog is all about the animals so each year as you’re watching sales and stocking your go-kit, be sure you’re giving equal attention to gathering extra food, water, medication, etc. for your furry and feathered friends as well!


Jo Becker is a Portland, Oregon-based speaker and freelance writer.  A seasoned presenter, she’s given animal-related talks since 2012.  Jo’s classes on preparedness (Animals-In-Disaster) and critter body language (Deciphering Doggie Dialects, Cracking the Kitty Code, & Honing Your Horse Sense) offer unique perspectives and practical resources. 

Jo takes an entertaining, personable approach to a ‘doom and gloom’ subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and to better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated pet mom and surrogate livestock handler when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.

Learn more, register for classes, and sign up for free eNews at www.JoBecker.weebly.com

If It Bit, It Must Be a Pit

What nonsense!  The negative attention pit bulls have garnered in the last few years has spawned ridiculous statements such as this that would be laughable if not so seriously misguided.  October is National Pit Bull Awareness Month and a perfect time to debunk myths and education those around us.

First, “pit bull” is not a breed, but a loose, undefined, and shifting grouping of breeds.  The American Kennel Club, the largest dog–breed registry in the US, does not recognize “pit bull” as a breed but folks frequently lump the following together under that title:  Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.  Mixes of any of these breeds also can be called a pit bull, and even those who are familiar with them can have trouble identifying them accurately.

Second, it is the smaller breeds – a couple notables are Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers – that bite more readily and more frequently.  Of course, the concern for “aggressive breeds” is that their bite mechanics are, in fact, quite different than that of their smaller counterparts.  When the so-called “bully breeds” bite, they lock their jaws and don’t let go.  That, coupled with more powerful jaws, larger teeth, and a dog’s natural instinct to thrash the prey caught in its mouth side to side makes the average bite from a bull terrier or a Rottweiler more serious and damaging than that of a Lhasa Apso or a Cocker Spaniel.

While it’s true that a bite from a larger dog is likely to be more severe for very natural and logical reasons, the trend in some areas toward breed bans is reactionary, misguided, and unwarranted.  Everyone from the Humane Society to the Obama administration opposes breed-specific legislation, because of evidence it just does not work.  Take a look at the American Bar Association’s official statement against such breed restrictions here for a good summary of the issues:  www.americanbar.org/newsletter/publications/gp_solo_magazine_home/gp_solo_magazine_index/pitbull.html.

What’s more, it’s just that – a trend.  The trend decades earlier had folks ringing their hands over German Shepherds (in the 70s) and Doberman Pinschers (in the 1980s).  Did pitties suddenly and mysteriously become more dangerous and Shepherds and Pinschers less so?  No, most likely not but pitties have become more popular and, in my humble opinion, more and more people are unaware of the conversations occurring between ourselves and other animals every day. 

That is, to me, the real crux of the matter.  Critters of all kinds – not just dogs but cats and birds and equine and camelids... – are communicating with us all the time.  Sadly we don’t speak their language, pick up on their body language, or mind the cues and warnings they give us.

Perhaps worse, we fail to realize that we’re conveying volumes to them!  Without being aware or mindful of our own body language and innate traits, we come across to critters as inconsistently (and unwittingly) aggressive.  And then we’re stunned when they respond with hostility and take their behavior as aggressive when, in fact, it’s often defensive.

This month, as you encounter pit bulls and other so called “aggressive breeds,” or any unfamiliar critter for that matter, practice the following techniques.  Observe closely to see if you don’t get a different response. 

The Approach:

  1. Roll your shoulders and angle your body so you’re not approaching the critter straight on
  2. Turn your head and avert your eyes
  3. Keep your hands close to your sides; avoid sudden gestures, loud noises, or anything that may startle
  4. Modulate your tone of voice; notice what responses you get with varied tones ranging from very high-pitched baby talk to low, calm, soothing words
  5. Allow the animal the freedom to choose whether or not to close the distance between you or maintain it’s own sense of personal space

If friendly and comfortable:

  • if or as you choose to close the gap yourself, move slowly keeping your eyes averted and body angled
  • slowly lower yourself to the critter’s level being careful not to do so right over the top of the animal
  • slowly extend a hand in greeting for it to catch your scent; notice any difference in response if this is done with an underhand verses overhand and / or overhead gesture 

 May your critter conversations this month be numerous, rich, rewarding, and educational!


Jo Becker is a Portland, Oregon-based speaker and freelance writer.  A seasoned presenter, she’s given animal-related talks since 2012.  Jo’s classes on preparedness (Animals-In-Disaster) and critter body language (Deciphering Doggie Dialects, Cracking the Kitty Code, & Honing Your Horse Sense) offer unique perspectives and practical resources. 

Jo takes an entertaining, personable approach to a ‘doom and gloom’ subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and to better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated pet mom and surrogate livestock handler when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.

Learn more, register for classes, and sign up for free eNews at www.JoBecker.weebly.com

Make a Lost Flyer Now

If you saw Spot Magazine’s Aug. / Sep. ‘Back to School’ print edition you may have seen my ‘Student Assembly’ piece on Sep. as National Preparedness Month

That article included one of my favorite prep. tips – numbering your emergency go-kit supplies in order of importance to you.  Here’s another of my most popular tips:  Make a ‘lost’ flyer now, before you need it.

This suggestion can serve you well in good times (no disaster in progress, someone simply left the gate or your front door open and your Lil’ Loved One slipped out) as well as bad (a major storm hit the area; a downed tree compromised your fence or home and your Lil’ Babe is gone).

For several tips on an effective flyer, including what kind of pictures to use, where to store the flyer, and more check out the video I made on this very subject with my local fire district at www.facebook.com/CFD1EmergencyPreparedness (do a Ctrl+F on your keyboard to search for “Day 10” or “pet." or click here.

Do us a favor and become a follower!  Clackamas Fire District has 22 of these gems – one each weekday for the month of Sep.  You won’t want to miss a single one!  If, as they get shuffled down in the chronology if facebook posts, you can find them archived here http://WFCERT.org/preparedness-videos.  The one on ‘lost flyers,’ as well as additional resources are also available at www.JoBecker.weebly.com/general-resources.html.


Jo Becker is a Portland, Oregon-based speaker and freelance writer.  A seasoned presenter, she’s given animal-related talks since 2012.  Jo’s classes on preparedness (Animals-In-Disaster) and critter body language (Deciphering Doggie Dialects, Cracking the Kitty Code, & Honing Your Horse Sense) offer unique perspectives and practical resources. 

Jo takes an entertaining, personable approach to a ‘doom and gloom’ subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and to better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated pet mom and surrogate livestock handler when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.

Learn more, register for classes, and sign up for free eNews at www.JoBecker.weebly.com

Rainbow Bridge

This is neither a preparedness nor a critter body language post.  August 28th is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day (www.felinediabetes.com/poetry.htm) and I want to offer this time to remember all the Babies we’ve loved and lost.

Over my lifetime, I’ve had twenty-four household pets – that’s a lot of Babies that have crossed over the Bridge.  Originally I was a child in a loving home with one-to-a-few pets at a time; but by the time I moved out on my own, I took a brood of seven critters with me.  In the first fourteen months that followed I lost five of those seven – four of which were geriatric and all of whom I’d had all of their lives and half of mine. 

During that year of intense caregiving it took me a minimum of an hour each morning to administer twenty-some meds, including injections and sub-Q fluids, five different diets, some of which frequently involved spoon- or syringe-feeding.  That was nine years ago and I’ve taken in and lost a few more Babies since.

I first learned of Rainbow Bridge during an extended and extensive four-year period of caring for the last pet I lost about three years ago.  Mr. Luke was a gregarious soul – I’m not sure I’ve ever had a pet that more people knew and asked about.  And that’s saying something considering he was a house cat (albeit one that loved to travel)!  An extremely unusual case of diabetes was one of Luke’s multiple life-threatening conditions and I stumbled on to Carol Notermann’s Rainbow Bridge poetry late one night while researching diabetes in cats online out of pure frustration.

The first poem I encountered wasn’t about Rainbow Bridge specifically.  It was written for – and in the voice of – her diabetic kitty in the form of a prayer asking god to help his ‘human bean’ as she struggled to protect and take care of him.  Reading that piece that night hit me square in the chest where it formed a solid mass, migrated up and lodged in my throat, before welling up and over the rims of eyes that quickly became red and swollen. 

Notermann’s words are so exquisitely and uncannily spot on.  Reading them from the pet’s perspective wracks me with sobs to this very day.  I mention the diabetic kitty’s prayer in particular for any readers braving the oft vagaries of regulating a pet’s blood sugar (it can be found on the same URL listed above).

I found and read Notermann’s poems on Rainbow Bridge the same night and, as I sat there with Luke sleeping peacefully by my side, it rocked me to my core for all the Fur Babies I’d lost and would someday join on that grassy field on the other side of the Bridge.  And, of course, I cried for Luke, not knowing how much longer I’d get to travel alongside him on this side of the Path.

The thing about Notermann’s work is that it incites a welcome cry – a cathartic release and a deep sense of warm relief.  It rouses heartfelt memories, adoration, and gratitude for all those lil’ souls I’ve shared my life with.  It seems to wash away any doubt that I’ll see my Sweetpeas again.

I remember asking a pastor in grade school if pets go to heaven. I’ll never know his personal belief, but I’ll never forget his response, “If it’s important to you and your everlasting happiness, then I’m sure there’s a place for pets in heaven.”  Perhaps he was just being kind and diplomatic with a young girl posing a weighty question about the afterlife, but somehow his answer resonated deep in my soul.

For me, a reunion resembling something like Rainbow Bridge is a certainty – a reunion in which I rush toward a throng of furry fans as they bound across the field to greet me, once again welcoming me home as if no time had lapsed since we last had been together. Personally, I’m more certain of that than I am of any specific definition or route to heaven. Notermann’s poems provide, for me, vivid imagery to a place my soul knows it will find one day; and when I do, those reunions will be sweeter and more joy-filled than any ecstasy I can imagine here on earth.

Blessings to you and your beloved Babies, current and past.


Jo Becker is a Portland, Oregon-based speaker and freelance writer.  A seasoned presenter, she’s given animal-related talks since 2012.  Jo’s classes on preparedness (Animals-In-Disaster) and critter body language (Deciphering Doggie Dialects, Cracking the Kitty Code, & Honing Your Horse Sense) offer unique perspectives and practical resources. 

Jo takes an entertaining, personable approach to a ‘doom and gloom’ subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and to better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated pet mom and surrogate livestock handler when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.

Learn more, register for classes, and sign up for free eNews at www.JoBecker.weebly.com

A Tale of Independence with A Happy Ending

I started my ‘Safe and Sane’ article in the Jun. / Jul. print edition of Spot Magazine with a story of a loose bull roaming my rural neighborhood a few Julys ago (see http://spotmagazine.net/news/tips-for-safety-and-sanity-on-the-4th-of-july).

There was, of course, a wee bit more to the story.  In addition to emergency preparedness focused on animals, I train (fellow humans) on the fundamentals of critter body language and that particular July episode tested and taxed my personal animal skills in more ways than one.

It began with very strange sounds in the middle of the night, early in July.  I woke, but decidedly stayed put.  The next morning I found my car scratched up and my utility trailer toppled (the trailer is where I store some of my preparedness supplies, by the way, ready to hitch up and haul away if evacuation is called for).

I was concerned about hoodlums but it was posed to me the culprit was likely a deer rubbing its horns against my car and trailer.  A day and a half later, when I heard the same noises about 2 AM, I decided to have a chat with that deer.  NOT advisable, by the way (don’t do that!), but off I went.

I could hear my visitor playing with my trailer and so knew where to go as I headed out the door into the dark, fumbling with a flashlight.  As I rounded the corner of a shed and stepped into the driveway I brought the light up to find a solid wall of brown illuminated in front of me.  I was dumbfounded – what could that be!  I panned to the left with the light and there, standing right in front of me and looking right back at me, was a very large head… with horns.  But it was no deer.  It was a bull!  And I just didn’t know bulls came that BIG!!

If I’d had two brain cells to rub together in that moment I’m quite certain I would have made a mess in my pants but, as it was, I didn’t even have the faculties for that.  I turned around (VERY bad move, by-the-way (don’t do that!)) and in a very few, large bounds was back in the house with the door locked and my back pressed against it as if to fortify my safe haven. 

I was extremely lucky my mid-night guest didn’t take my retreat as an invitation to chase.  He simply watched me calmly, and then wandered off.

I never went back to bed that night.  At 5 AM someone sent me a link to a news story about my wandering visitor.  “It wasn’t a deer,” the sender said, “it was a bull that scratched your car.”  “Yeah, I know,” was my reply, “we’ve met!” 

It seems Ferdinand – as he’d been dubbed in honor of the docile bull that was a lover, not a fighter – had been wandering our rural area for days.  A neighbor up the road a ways had gone to the media hoping to alert and find his owners before the animal caused a crash crossing the roadway or had an ill-fated encounter with a pet or person.

It was theorized that perhaps Fourth of July fireworks had spooked him and he’d charged a fenced enclosure earlier that week.  None of my neighbors had known of a resident bull in the vicinity but apparently Ferdinand’s recent independence from someone’s back forty hadn’t yet come to an end and he was still at large.

Jo pictured with Ollie the Donkey, one of several livestock she was caring for the week Ferdinand found (and lost) his independence.

Jo pictured with Ollie the Donkey, one of several livestock she was caring for the week Ferdinand found (and lost) his independence.

As it turned out, I was watching a neighbor’s livestock that week and now, aware of the wandering behemoth, I was concerned for their safety.  Were they safer in the pasture or in the barn if I could even get them all inside on my own?  Did we have a fence down that allowed Ferdy in… and perhaps was letting our animals out?  While I was safe in the house early that morning, I contacted all the neighbors I knew to see who was home and willing to help.  I boned up bovine – I’d had no clue about cows verses bulls – and came to learn that Ferdinand was a Jersey Bull, a breed that has a particular reputation for aggression.  In fact, my personal vet admonished me to stay clear of him all together.  I reached out to everyone I knew from my vet to technical rescue team members for advice on dealing with my new friend.

At daybreak I counted heads next door and began to walk the boundary of the 12-acre property checking the fence line. I was convinced I’d run smack dab into Ferdy (perhaps not so docile this time) taking a siesta behind every crop of trees I came across.  After two hours of nerves jizzled up to the hilt; manically keeping my eyes peeled for signs and clues (I did find some massive droppings); making up and second-guessing strategies all on top of no sleep, I hit the wall and went home to recharge.  I woke after an hour or so and as I got up I spied Ferdinand waltzing out my driveway from the window over my bed.

I coordinated with neighbors by text and within an hour Ferdy was contained.  He was first pinned in a fenced vegetable garden (which he could have knocked over with a boisterous sneeze!).  From there I walked him to a fenced pasture with a keen eye, soothing voice, and a buck of tasty grain.  By nightfall the owners had seen the news and found us.

Ferdy proved to be a gracious guest and, frankly, I miss him, but it never left my mind that he could have be lethal without even meaning to be.  In the shock and bewilderment of our first encounter, I did everything wrong.  By the time I went out the next morning to walk the perimeter of the property I was better informed, equipped with a mobile phone for communication, and suited up with the helmet I use for technical rescue work. 

By that afternoon when we corralled him and prepared to move him to the pasture, I imparted everything I could remember to neighbors who were helping from an animal handling class I’d taken weeks before which had, fortuitously, entailed rounding up half a dozen young steer.  I’d even had the experience of one of the steer charging me and successfully staring him down.  So, equipped with broomsticks, tarps, and a wee bit of instruction from me, my neighbors provided back up as I maneuvered Ferdinand into the pasture for safekeeping.  It wasn’t far from the garden to the pasture but I knew it’d be best if we could keep the situation quiet and peaceful.  If I or the neighbors who were helping happened to pull any ‘cowboy theatrics’ – whooping and hollering or prodding him along – our 1,500-pound visitor could have easily become aroused, agitated, and amped up.  Knowing how to keep him moving without appearing to him as a threat or a challenge, or worse yet, prey to be chased and run down, helped immensely. 

I made some dumb moves that week and I took a number of calculated risks.  I was both lucky and my training paid off. 

The whole experience taught me valuable lessons that I would have never imagined getting at home with such an unpredicted character.  I look forward to sharing some of the human-critter communication and body language awareness tips I used that day with you in upcoming posts, as well as animal emergency preparedness resources, but for now, I’m happy to report that this summertime tale did, in fact, have a happy ending.  Ferdy roamed the area freely for a few days, meeting new friends and laying in strawberry patches before his roaming independence came to an end.  Most importantly, no one was hurt in the process of helping him find his way back home.

I hope your Fourth of July was equally safe and happy, if perhaps a little less adventurous.


Jo Becker is a Portland, Oregon-based public speaker, consultant, and freelance writer.  A seasoned presenter, she’s given animal-related talks since 2012.  Jo’s Animals-In-Disaster and animal body language presentations offer unique perspectives. 

Jo takes an entertaining, personable approach to a ‘doom and gloom’ subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated pet mom and surrogate livestock handler when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.

Learn more at www.JoBecker.weebly.com

A Perfect (If Unexpected) Fit

Last month a colleague in the animal industry asked me to write a blog – what turned out to be my first ever – in honor of National Pet Preparedness Month.  “National what?” I thought.

There is, it seems, an honorary day, week, or month set aside to celebrate, commemorate, or bring awareness to nearly anything and everything.  There is, for example, Social Petworking Month and National Dog Party Day (both also in June), National Cook for Your Pets Day (November), and National Answer Your Cat's Question Day (January), to name just a few.

As someone who’s always had an erratic schedule, I’ve never taken much stock in various holidays – even some of the supposedly big ones.  In the past I was just as likely to be working or snug at home with some project than vacationing, BBQ’ing, or hitting the sale du’jour. 

But this month’s awareness holiday perfectly suits my new career.  The day after Christmas I spontaneously made a decision that had been brewing for years.  I left a nonprofit I’d called home for 10 years that was dedicated to civil rights in housing, bringing an end to nearly 20 years in the housing industry, in order to follow another passion I’d been nurturing since 2005.  In January I launched a business helping households and jurisdictions prepare for the unexpected focused on animals big and small, including awareness level animal body language training for fellow humans. 

So, you see, June’s little known holiday fits my career choice perfectly.  It fits so well it’s prompted my second (ever!) blog post here and spurred this new, regular feature at Spot Magazine.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts.  Next month’s will offer ‘the rest of the story’ hinted at my article, ‘Tips for Safety and Sanity for the 4th of July’ in Spot Magazine’s Jun. / Jul. print edition http://spotmagazine.net/news/tips-for-safety-and-sanity-on-the-4th-of-july.  There was much more to that loose bull story!

In the meantime, visit www.felinebehaviorsolutions.com/disaster-preparedness-pets/ to read my inaugural blog, including tips and recommendations for National Pet Preparedness Month.


Jo pictured with BaBa the Black Sheep 

Jo pictured with BaBa the Black Sheep 

Jo Becker is a Portland, Oregon-based public speaker, consultant, and freelance writer.  A seasoned presenter, she’s given animal-related talks since 2012.  Jo’s Animals-In-Disaster and animal body language presentations offer unique perspectives. 

Jo takes an entertaining, personable approach to a ‘doom and gloom’ subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated pet mom and surrogate livestock handler when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.

Learn more at www.JoBecker.weebly.com