THE SYSTEM OF
Animal Lessons is a system intended to help you harness that which the animals in your life are teaching you. The system is both practical and fluid, and it can be broken down into a few simple steps that I’ll outline for you here. These easy steps will show you how to gain a solid understanding of how animals (whether domesticated, wild, farm, or other) are acting as your mentors, therapists, trainers, and gurus every day. One of the main tenets of this program is developing and holding a newfound awareness of yourself, but this awareness requires solid groundwork from which to grow.
The Five Steps to Animal Lessons
To get you primed, here’s a very brief outline of the steps.
Step 1: Determine How Your Animal Is Helping You
The first step is very logical: determine how an animal is helping you grow, evolve, change, learn, or become a master. Your pet (or any animal you feel a special connection to) already knows this and is seeing it through, but your experience of this animal probably hasn’t made you aware of that yet. Determining how your animal is helping you is one of the most important aspects, as things with our animals aren’t always as they seem. I’ve worked with people who thought their animal was helping them shift in one area of their life, only to delve deeper and discover the learning was actually focused in a different, more profound direction.
Step 2: Determine the Lesson
Once you’ve figured out how your animal is helping you, the natural question that pops up is Why? This is the second step—figuring that out. Why do you need help in this area? What do you need to learn? What belief is this animal helping you change? We’ll use my fun technique with your chosen animal (and yes, it may make you feel a little crazy sometimes) to aid you in developing a new kind of awareness of yourself, including identifying what beliefs the animal in your life is helping you change. It’s through this awareness that you’ll next start identifying how you’re avoiding learning this deep lesson. The better your understanding of the belief your animal is helping you change, the more awareness you’ll achieve and the easier the process will be. Knowledge is the key here.
Step 3: Find Your Work-Arounds
People seem to have the most fun when they reach step 3 in the process. It takes into account the learning and growth you’ve now experienced and helps you (with your animal’s continued support and assistance) delve more deeply into your awareness, fine-tuning your tools to discover the next layer of this work with your animal. Here you get to discover those automated behavior patterns that are covering up your negative beliefs. This step is the reason so many people have had great successes through this system. It’s not about forcing yourself to make changes; it’s about mastering something within by changing an underlying negative belief (under the watchful and supportive eye of your chosen animal) in order to clearly and definitively begin experiencing internal and external growth. Let me be very clear: this has nothing to do with willpower. It’s about the results that begin to occur as you learn the lesson your animal has been diligently working to teach you. Finally, your dog isn’t peeing in the house as much, or your horse is getting along better with his stall mate than he was a couple weeks ago, or the pig you’ve grown to love is letting go of her anxiety and playing with the other pigs.
Step 4: The Decision-Making Process
In this phase of the process you’ll be asked to become your own little fortune-teller. But don’t worry, this isn’t as hard as it might sound, and it certainly doesn’t require any psychic abilities. You’ll simply use what you’ve learned about yourself and the special animal in your life to cull out moments that you can use for your new decision-making process. This is an exciting step in the process because it’s a very active one. Most of what you’ve been doing thus far in the process is about observing, and now you’ll be asked to put your new observation skills to work.
Step 5: Mastery
The fifth and final step is also exciting because it relates directly to subtle changes that are now happening within. Your deeply held negative beliefs about yourself—beliefs that are patently untrue (everyone deserves support and is worthy of love, but many people struggle to believe this, for example)—have been getting chipped away bit by bit through the Animal Lesson work. Here, you finally begin experiencing your life through a positive filter, instead of the old negative one, because the work you’ve done with this important animal has shown you a different reality. As a result, your decision-making processes are different, the animal you’re working with is behaving differently, your environment is different, and how you feel about yourself is different. All these changes result in new, desired experiences in your life. This part of the process is not just about noticing the changes that have occurred—it’s about living them. The transformations can be so deep that they just feel regular. Since there is no “push” or “force” to the changes (they have occurred within rather than through willpower), they have become the norm.
This system is not challenging. In fact, many people and their animal teachers successfully move through it in just a few weeks. Personally, I like that. I’m all for making things simple, easy, fun, and, yes … fast, while also improving the lives of the animals I do dearly love.
So, if you’re ready to get going now, let’s move into the details on how animals are really achieving these amazing results with humans around the world.
Setting the Stage
You’re probably pretty excited to begin working with the special animal in your life and begin making changes within, but we’re not going to jump right there yet. First, we have to set the stage so you can do the best Animal Lesson work possible.
Animals have complex emotions and senses, just like humans.
Your frame of mind is one of the most important factors for success with this system. Basically, you’re going to have to wrap your head around and completely accept the idea that the animal you’re choosing to focus on is as sensitive as you are and has a big-picture understanding of your personal world and the world in general. If you find this notion difficult to accept, you’ll also find that moving through the process in this book will be difficult to accomplish. My advice: just go with it! If you don’t believe it now, you surely will by the end of this book.
Every day our culture teaches us that animals are less intelligent than humans. You can see how that idea is reinforced as an almost universal belief in how we treat our animals around the world (just look at bull-fighting, factory farming, and circuses as a few examples). Luckily, there are many people who know differently, and their voices are becoming louder and louder as mass consciousness shifts from viewing animals as things without feelings to considering and treating them as beings with emotions and intelligence that rival, if not surpass, our own.
While working through this book, if you continue to discount what your animal is showing you (“How could an animal truly understand how I don’t believe in myself ?” or “It must be a coincidence”), you’ll find yourself struggling. I was speaking with a client on the phone the other day about how I am writing this book on how people can experience incredible growth when they allow themselves to fully love an animal. His voice took on a serious tone as he told me about a study he’d read that concluded that the average adult dog’s intelligence is equal to that of a three-year-old child. He then said, “But I don’t agree with this at all!”
I laughed and said, “Neither do I!”
Before I could tell him how my work as an animal communicator had shown me that animals were, in many ways, more worldly, compassionate, intelligent, and understanding than most humans, he said, “I think it’s more like a five-year-old child.” The most interesting part of this conversation is not that this man views animals differently from me—it’s that the conversation started because he wanted me to know how much he loves his dog Ralph and how Ralph had changed his life for the better by forcing him to be more active and meet more people in his neighborhood, a neighborhood he’s lived in for over a decade. This man has already benefitted from the lesson his animal was teaching him—he just hasn’t realized it yet!
What this client doesn’t yet appreciate, and what many people in modern society don’t yet appreciate, is that the way to gauge an animal’s intelligence is not by asking that animal to figure out a contextual problem, by testing the animal’s memory, nor any other method that is commonly used today. It is by looking at how animals live.
When you’re feeling upset, does your cat slink over to you and sit by your side? When you’re feeling lonely, does your dog suddenly drop a ball in your lap and start woofing to try and entice you to play? When you’re feeling down in the dumps and go to the barn to visit the horses, does one horse immediately nuzzle you with loving kisses? When you’re taking a walk through the woods and in a good mood, does it seem like the birds are singing to you?
Animals not only possess the capacity to understand the full range of our human emotions, they also possess the capacity to experience their own full range of emotions just as deep and turbulent as ours. Yes, you read that correctly. Animals have the same emotions that people have. I know there are some people, even great animal lovers like the client I just mentioned, who don’t yet grasp this, but it’s what I have witnessed every day working with animals and people, and it’s what I believe you will come to realize to the core of your being as you make your way through this book. It’s not a coincidence that when you’re feeling lonely, your dog shows up and asks you to play. Your dog understands and experiences your loneliness and is subsequently handing you a solution. It’s hard to feel lonely when you’re out in the yard throwing the ball again and again with your dog, who is fully enveloping himself in the moment with you, loving, running, barking, and playing.
Animals are so clued in to our human emotions that they often take those emotions into themselves. As an animal communicator, countless people have brought their dog or cat or rabbit or cow to me because they were worried the animal was grieving the loss of his companion animal too hard. When I would intuitively connect in with the animal to ask about this though, I would most often receive an answer that would stun the animal’s people. Of course animals grieve the loss of a beloved animal companion because there are definitive daily changes and things that can no longer happen: the two can’t sleep next to each other anymore, steal each other’s food, or hunt together, for example. But what may surprise you is the deeper answer to what is usually going on.
More than likely, the animal will tell me that he’s feeling sad because his humans are so sad. And while this is not what people usually want to hear (many would rather focus on helping cure their pet’s sadness than on dealing with their own grief), understanding what is really going on can be a huge help. Wild animals are very perceptive at noticing changes in their world. Natural selection has hammered this into their DNA, in fact, but in the wild, it could keep an animal alive to notice the emotional changes of those around her. To that end, today’s domesticated animals still do this.
My travels as an animal communicator have proven to me that no emotion (and therefore no situation) is too complex for an animal to understand. Animals have talked to me about sadness, worry, fear, and anxiety but also about longing, jealousy, excitement, anticipation, and wariness. If it’s an emotion that we can feel, it’s an emotion that an animal can experience as well. When you discount the emotions and perceptions of animals, you miss the point of how animals can assist you in your life, and it will be hard to accept the deep work the animal wants to do with you.
Making an Agreement
To do this work, imagine that you and the animal in your life have made an agreement to complete an assignment together.
I know it sounds a little crazy, but the easiest way to understand how to work with an animal in this way and how to have the most success with it is to consider yourself as having signed a contract with your animal. By this I mean you are connected to this animal: you will learn whatever you’re supposed to learn, and the animal is, through this agreement, going to continue working with you until you “get” and master whatever that lesson is.
Let’s now expand on this contract analogy. The agreement between you and your animal is based on a mutual goal regarding your own soul’s growth. That goal could be that you finally learn to value yourself, that you finally break free of your fear of failure, or that you finally begin standing up for yourself. Whatever your goal is, that’s the animal’s goal as well. We’ll get more into this in later chapters when you start looking at why this animal is in your life, but for now, just know that you’re both working toward the same goal.
As a result of this relationship between the animal and you, the animal will do anything and everything in her power to get you to realize your goal. This is part of that contract and means that your animal could start aggressively barking, get wounded, misbehave, become sick, make you feel loved in a way you’ve never felt before, or inspire within you a desire to seek justice for others, for example. The list of methods an animal could use to help you realize your goal is actually endless. What the animal does in order to get your attention so that you start working toward your mutual goal will depend on what your goal is, what your animal is capable of, and what will make you finally sit up, take notice, and learn that lesson!
Let’s use an example of a woman named Charlotte who is dealing with a high-strung deer in her backyard that keeps running anxiously at her when she tries to mow her backyard. While it doesn’t work this way all the time, in this example, the deer is reflecting Charlotte’s own anxiety back to her. Now, this may seem like a simple case of the wild deer picking up on Charlotte’s anxiety and carrying it around, but there’s a catch. Because Charlotte and the deer are working together toward a common goal through their assignment, if Charlotte doesn’t start making headway with her worry, the deer will step up her charging. For example, instead of running anxiously at Charlotte when she comes into the backyard, the deer may begin charging her, or perhaps she’ll take things even further and start butting the sliding door window.
When you’re in a situation like this with an animal, the animal is going to pull out all the stops necessary to get you to sit up and take notice. The goal of stepping things up a notch is to make things so uncomfortable (or in some cases so over-the-top amazing) that Charlotte feels that she has no choice but to start paying attention. And yes, this means if you try and ignore the situation, something about it will grow and grow until it almost becomes so overwhelming that you feel you must address it.
There is a massive positive side, though, to these human/animal contract relationships: once Charlotte starts tending to her anxiety, the deer will respond accordingly. Maybe Charlotte starts taking a meditation class or dumps the boyfriend who was creating all the challenges, which calms her anxiety down. Then perhaps she and the deer will be able to coexist in the backyard, for example. Whatever positive changes Charlotte makes will be reflected positively in the deer as well, as per the unspoken agreement the two have.
Dissecting How Animal Lessons Work
There are three main components to every human-animal relationship, regardless of the situation of the animal (i.e., the animal could be your pet, a neighbor’s pet, a farm animal, a wild animal, or an animal you’ve only heard about). These are the how, the what, and the work-arounds.
• The how is the method the animal uses to bring something to your attention, such as barking, biting, inspiring you, charging you, or causing fear.
• The what is the deep lesson that animal is helping you learn, such as believing that you’re lovable, good, whole, deserving, or safe.
• The work-arounds are the methods you’ve developed over time to help you avoid learning those lessons, such as trying to stay under the radar, not speaking up, or being overly competitive.
Let’s break things down in the simplest way possible to begin. Usually, when I explain those three pieces to a client, they immediately construct a statement summarizing the relationship with the animal in their life. I call it the Animal Lesson Statement, and here is a typical example from one of my clients:
My dog Stella is teaching me to love myself.
With this statement, my client has deciphered what Stella is helping her learn: to love herself. This is a great starting point, but the statement is missing the how (what method the animal is using to teach this lesson) and the work-arounds (what my client does to avoid learning this lesson through the animal).
Determining the how is important: after all, how can you work on changing something if you don’t know how it works? It may seem obvious when I lay it out like this, but despite this clarity, most people will initially lay out their Animal Lesson Statements and completely forget the how! Often this happens because a person is avoiding looking deeper at the relationship.
If you think you might be one of those people, you should feel encouraged. Your avoidance means your animal is tapping into something hidden within you that bears investigation! As you delve further into this process, those hidden emotions or thoughts that you’ve been trying to ignore will pop up despite how much you’d rather they don’t—which is a part of the process I love. You can’t hide anything from the animal in your life!
Here’s an example of an Animal Lesson Statement that contains the what, the how, and the work-arounds:
My dog Stella is teaching me to believe
I am strong and powerful by acting scared and overly
submissive every time I am feeling insecure
and trying to avoid being noticed.
Aha! This statement explains things much more thoroughly. Now, both the what component (teaching her to believe she is strong and powerful) and the how component (by behaving a certain way) are included. This makes it easier to see the cause-and-effect relationship in play and better explains the human-animal relationship because the person has demonstrated not only what she is working on learning through her animal, but also the specific methods the animal is employing to get her attention and help her grow within.
There is still one element we haven’t discussed yet, though: the work-arounds. Work-arounds are the behaviors and emotions we develop as a way to avoid having to deal with those inner lessons. A person who doesn’t feel safe in the world may develop the work-around of trying to hide from others so that they don’t notice her. Or a person who feels insecure may develop the work-around of trying to prove what a great person he is by striving to beat everyone out at his work.
In the example statement above, the work-around for my client is that whenever she feels insecure, she becomes submissive and small, thereby letting someone else take the credit for her work. Work-arounds can be so sneaky that you don’t even notice them! What is most exciting about work-arounds? The animal in your life will always call you out on them! (But more about that later.)
We’ve now dissected the human-animal relationship through the what, the how, and the work-arounds in order to give you a foundation from which to work as you move through the rest of this book. So many people get all excited about working with an animal in this way that they skim over the significance of at least one of these aspects and end up working with their animal at a level that doesn’t go nearly as deep as it could.
Animals are touching your life, not to help you get better at leash work, to force you to be a better trainer, or to push you into managing your temper, but to assist you in changing that belief within you that makes you choose to stop trying to get your dog to walk properly on the leash or the other part of you that chooses to prioritize everyone else above yourself. There is so much depth to what your animal understands about you that you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t find that depth in the relationship between the two of you.
Animals in Action: Melissa the Vet
I first met Melissa more than a decade ago. My assistant at that time was dividing her day between working for me and working as a vet tech for this “really amazing veterinarian” that she never stopped talking about. I wasn’t overwhelmed with love for the vet that we had been working with for our dogs, Bella and Kelso, so we decided to try her out. For our first visit, Kevin and I brought both Bella and Kelso together—and this is when they were young and super rambunctious—so it was quite a chaotic visit. Despite all the disorder, as soon as I met Melissa I knew there was something very special about her. Her care for my dogs and for the other animals that visited her practice clearly came from her huge heart. Kevin loved that she took the time to talk with us about our dogs and demonstrated interest in getting to know each one of them. To this day, all my dogs have seen Melissa as their friend and vet. She not only understands the deeper connection between an animal and a person, she lives it.
When you learn that Melissa grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, her unique love of animals may not seem to make sense at first. Melissa’s family had what she calls an outdated mentality that ignored the animals’ personal feelings: the animals were grown for food and for money, and if that animal wasn’t going to produce either of those, then the animal had no value. In Melissa’s own words, dogs and cats in particular were considered meaningless, as they did not contribute to putting dinner on the table. Melissa’s view of animals, however, was very different from this.
As a child, once Melissa made the connection between what she was eating and the animals on the farm, she immediately decided to become vegetarian. For her, it didn’t make sense to eat those creatures that she watched give birth, that she fed, cared for, and played with. Melissa’s father couldn’t understand her choices around animals and often thought she was just “full of nonsense,” but rather than deter Melissa from these thoughts, this made her beliefs only grow stronger.
Because cats and dogs were not valued on the farm, they weren’t spayed or neutered and weren’t given vaccinations (as this was before the distemper vaccination was invented). This meant that many of the kittens and puppies born would die before they ever got a chance to mature. Melissa was especially drawn to the kittens and learned a lot about how to help them and keep them feeling comfortable just by spending the amount of time with them that she did. She would call her friends, who all lived in town in the suburbs, to come out to the farm and she would teach them all about the kittens.
Young Melissa developed a little test to tell the healthy kittens from the kittens that were going to die. If she put the kitten on his back and he could hold his head up, she knew that kitten would be strong enough to make it. If the kitten couldn’t keep his head up, she knew he would die, and she’d do everything she could to help keep the sickly kittens comfortable until they passed away.
She’d known almost since she was a toddler that she wanted to be a veterinarian, but it was caring for those dying kittens that really guided her determination in pursuing her dreams. Every time a kitten died, Melissa was hugely affected. Each death fortified her determination to fulfill her veterinarian dream despite the beliefs of her father. This drove her to take her first job in research. Her plan had been to find that cure for distemper (which is what was killing the kittens), but since the vaccine had already been created by that time, she set about working on the vaccine for feline leukemia. The vaccine that she helped invent has now saved the lives of millions of cats worldwide.
Melissa’s veterinary practice works with both domestic animals as well as birds and exotics. Her life growing up with the animals taught her that all animals, whether or not they earn money or produce food for the owner, are valuable, and that is certainly reflected in her practice today. It’s no coincidence that she had to go against her father’s wishes to assist the dying kittens, and today she’s open to many different modalities for healing the animals she comes in contact with.
I’m sure that, no matter what, Melissa was destined to become a veterinarian. All those litters of kittens dying helped solidify her desires so that she could leave her old life behind to follow her dreams. She continues to help millions of animals every year, and the kittens helped her create a practice that I am proud to be a part of.