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Creature Thoughts July 2020: Ryder

July’s creature thoughts is going to be a bit different. We have once again had our family life derailed. Many of you already know what is going on, but I’m sending out July’s newsletter to catch my friends up to speed, and to ask for your good thoughts for Ryder, and for our family.

I am working, though may be a little harder to pin down for a session. I am restricting sessions to email-only unless the client has no possible access to email. This has actually been a policy for a while, but I haven’t always been strict about enforcing it. I would love to take time off to dedicate every minute to Ryder, but the vet bills need paying, and the family (two-legged and four) need to eat. Plus, the ability to help you all with your dear ones is a comfort to me right now.

Please read the following post on my website for an explanation:

Every Day a Gift

The Corpse That Wasn’t There 1st Edition

I have a box of about 50 first-edition copies of the first novel in my Junior Handler Mysteries series, The Corpse That Wasn’t There. In order to help with the vet bills, I’m offering autographed copies for $15 US. That should help a little with expenses, and cover the cost of flat-rate priority shipping within the United States (for international orders, I may ask for the balance of postage). I realize that the book can be purchased on Amazon.com for less (due to their free shipping policies), and if people prefer to do this, that’s fine. However, it takes quite a while for royalties from Amazon to arrive, and they only come to a fraction of what the book sells for. I do understand, though … I always search for the best deal when shopping, too. Please use the contact form on gazehound.com or email me at gayze.starr@gmail.com if you’re interested.

Although the series is written with upper elementary and middle-school aged kids in mind, many dog-loving adults have written to tell me how much they enjoy them as well.

As a bonus, the Saluki who modeled for the cover image was Ryder’s sister Arya. The talented Jennifer Hawkyard, the niece of Ryder’s first human, Lin, is the artist.

A Thank You From the Heart

I also want to thank those friends who have reached out with help and support, and so much love, for Ryder. The kindness, and the love people have for this dear boy, overwhelm me with emotion. I have spent many days weeping in the past week or two, and not all of the tears have been sad ones. Some have been tears of gratitude and love for the support of friends.

Thank you for thinking of us kindly as we travel this road once again. Send light and love and gentle prayers for my boy. We are determined to keep him happy, strong, and feeling well for as long as humanly possible.


Ryder, in the car on his first ride home as a Nastasi, December 2015.

Creature Thoughts: June 2020 – A Kitty’s Gotta Scratch

A Kitty’s Gotta Scratch

Featuring Tristan and Kieran

“How do I get my cat to stop scratching?” is a question I have heard quite a few times over the years. My answer? “You don’t.”

Tristan and Kieran on their cat tree. Photo © Deridre Price, 2018

That’s not a fatalistic outlook speaking. You don’t get a cat to stop scratching, because scratching is absolutely essential for a cat’s mental and physical health.

Scratching exercises all major muscle groups in the cat’s body, as well as many fine muscles of the paws, legs, shoulders, neck and back. It clears old, dead sheath tissue off of the claws, helping them to remain healthy and clean. It releases energy, diffusing that which might be otherwise channeled to more disruptive activities. It is a great stress reducer, both because of the exercise, and the fact that cats use scratching to claim ownership of their home and belongings. There are scent glands in a cat’s paws which, like the glands in their cheeks and the base of the tail that mark with scent when a cat rubs, place the cat’s own scent on their favorite items. A cat who feels like he owns his space is a content, secure cat.

What a cat-parent must do to save their home and furniture is not prevent the cat from scratching, but help him to know what surfaces are acceptable.

Providing your cats with appropriate items to scratch will go a long way toward preserving your belongings. The wide variety of scratching products on the market today means that every cat’s preference can be satisfied. Some cats like to reach upwards to scratch (couch and wall culprits). Some prefer to stretch out on the floor (carpet diggers). All cats, whether horizontal scratchers or vertical, like to be able to really stretch out.

Part of the same post, some time later. It’s better to replace a post occasionally than to replace your couch!
Photo © Deirdre Price 2020.

Avoid scratching posts and boards that are too short for your cat to reach to their full length. Make sure, whatever type you choose, the post is solid and does not wobble too much. If a cat likes floor scratching, the “wobble factor” isn’t as much of a priority. Of all the scratching options we have provided Missie, the ones she likes best are those cheap cardboard scratching boards that just lie on the floor. Vertical scratchers, however, will often not use a post that wobbles. Some cats like to use broad surfaces, so might prefer a board to a post. There is much to choose from.

Observe your cat’s preferences. He will show you just how he likes to scratch. Shop around a bit, and find just the right type of scratching surface to suit his natural tendencies. Once you have the product in hand, it is not difficult at all to train a cat to use it. Play with his favorite toy near the scratcher. Try rubbing a little catnip into it. Don’t force his paws onto it–that is uncomfortable to a cat, and you don’t want to create a negative association. If it’s a vertical post, try laying it down at first till he has discovered it. Be sure not to hide it in an out of the way spot, but set it up in an area where your kitty already likes to hang out.

If the cat has already started using an inappropriate surface, set the new scratching post up near that area. When you see the cat start to scratch the wall or couch, move him gently to the new scratcher and encourage him: “Scratch! Good boy!” Give lots of praise and maybe even a treat when he complies. Be sure to make that his favorite interactive-play spot for a little while. You can encourage him to stretch out and scratch by drawing his favorite wand or fishing pole toy along the surface. If you enjoy clicker or lure-reward training with your cat, that can be a very quick way to get the “This is where you scratch” message across.

The Felix Cat Tree company makes very sturdy, long-lasting posts. This post gets as much use as the cat tree above, but has really held up well. Photo ©Deirdre Price, 2020.

You may have to, for a short time, cover the old item or spot with something that will deter the cat, if he has already developed a habit. Double-sided tape works, or some cats will be deterred by aluminum foil. A temporary furniture throw can help if it’s a couch or chair arm that is his target. Since you are also actively encouraging and praising the cat for using the correct surface, your funny-looking deterrents won’t be there for long, don’t worry.

Whatever you do, don’t punish the cat or use a squirt bottle to deter him from scratching. All this does is make the cat wary of your presence so he won’t scratch while you’re watching. That will simply make the training process take much longer, and damage your relationship with your cat. Instead, your goal is to make his new scratching board or post the most inviting place to exercise those claws and muscles.

Every cat needs to scratch. By providing a variety of appropriate places for him to do so, you’ve created a happy cat, a happy owner, and a delightfully un-shredded home.

With thanks to my buddies Tristan and Kieran, Manx cats who live in the beautiful state of Kentucky with their mom, Dede.

News and Information

Remember that you can always follow my availability, and any changes to my schedule via the Gazehound.com website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have young animal lovers in your life (or are a young-at-heart animal lover yourself) who are looking for something to do this (rather odd and limited) summer, take a look at my Junior Handler Mysteries. Perhaps they would enjoy some fun reading.

Creature Thoughts, Jan 2020: Animal Totems


Wolf Totem by Jenny Hawkyard
Wolf Totem by Jenny Hawkyard

For as long as there has been human culture, that culture has had a strong association with the animals with which we share our world.

The Chinese and other Asian cultures revolve their traditional calendar around animals. This year, 2020, will be the Year of the Rat. The Rat is the first animal of a twelve-year cycle. It’s followed, in succession, by the rest of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac: Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. (Sorry, Al Stewart fans, there actually is no Year of the Cat.)

People born in the Year of the Rat are supposed to be witty, social, and well-loved. They draw friends around them and are known to be giving and supportive. They are adaptable and clever, though they can tend to hoard their belongings and be a bit on the possessive side.

Children who were born in 1924, ’36, ’48, ’60, ’72, ’84, ’96, and 2008 are all Year of the Rat babies. Were you born in one of those years? Do any of the above characteristics fit your personality?

The Asian lands, of course, are not the only ones who have associated important aspects of their culture with animals. Animals are an important part of our entire human-centered world. It’s only natural that people have attached spiritual wisdom and significance to them.

Native American nations are well known for their belief in totem and spirit animals, and their respect for animal beings as “people” of their own kinds. Traditionally, animals would bring messages from spirit and guidance on how to best live their lives. The dance of the hunt and the knowledge of how to survive in each unique environment all centered around the special relationship with animals and their spirits.

The ancient Celts had a strong affiliation with the animals around them. As with the indigenous American cultures, animals imparted unique magic and power to their lives. The devoted courage of the wolf, the far-sighted determination of the hawk, and the calm, comforting energy of the wren were all important to them. The Druids, as has been mentioned in a previous article on Gazehound.com, saw the Starling as sacred.

Many Greek and Roman myths, and the gods and goddesses with which they are associated, include important animal symbolism. The hounds of Diana/Artemis were indispensable to her hunt. Where would Bellerophon have been without Pegasus? That old Chimaera would certainly have gotten the upper hand.

Of course, we can’t forget the Egyptians. You can’t view a hieroglyphic frieze without running into animals everywhere. Many of their gods took the form of animals and animal-human hybrids, and there are depictions throughout Egyptian archaeology of hunting hounds, hawks, and cats. There have also been a large number of mummified animals discovered, proof that animals were of prime importance in this culture.

Even our western society puts important stress on animal symbolism. Just take a look at the idioms in the English language. She’s sly as a fox; he’s stubborn as a mule. It’s a three dog night. Who let the cat out of the bag?

Animals are as much a part of our human society as we are. Many people feel more drawn to some animals than others. There are those who would say that these species are our spirit animals, or our totems. Some seek out special guidance to help them connect with their animal spirit guides, though it is my belief that each of us has that talent within us. We are the best person to know where our inner self leads, after all. We just have to get quiet and listen.

What animals do you feel strongly connected to? The age old question comes to mind, “Are you a dog person, or a cat person?” Or a horse person? A bird person? A wildlife person?

Are you all of the above? Even if so, is there one specific species that just speaks to you more strongly than others? Is there one which you feel best describes your inner nature?

Are you as sly as a fox? Stubborn as a mule? Faithful as a hound? Farsighted as a hawk?

As we step into this Year of the Rat, I hope you’ll give some quiet thought to the wisdom and guidance your animal friends have brought into your life. They are truly a treasure, in so many ways.

Wishing you joy in 2020!

About the Photo: Jenny Hawkyard (aka Jezhawk), the wonderful artist who created the cover illustrations for my Junior Handler books, has a fabulous collection of Totem Animals available as prints and merchandise. Please visit her Etsy or RedBubble Store and see if any of them speak to you. My thanks to Jenny for her permission to use her beautiful image. Pictured: Wolf Totem

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