Companion Animal Psychology News July 2019

A lesson for the human classroom that comes from dog training, music at the vet's for cats, and a dancing parrot... this month's Companion Animal Psychology News.

Companion Animal Psychology News July 2019

My favourites this month 

"“Learning shouldn’t hurt” is an adage among progressive dog training and animal behavior communities, and it’s the main idea I took from training dogs that informs my approach to pedagogy." Learning shouldn’t hurt, or how my dog made me a better teacher by Ryan Donovan.

“Adding music might help, but also take the opportunity to think more broadly..” Promising results from a study of music for cats in the vet clinic, in Can special music for cats reduce their stress at the clinic by Linda Lombardi at Fear Free Pets.

"Dogs aren't the only ones who can do science. The era of cat science is now." Do you play with your cat? This online study is for you! by Julie Hecht. You can take part in the study at

“Puppies will give us a clear “yes” “not yet” or “no” with their body language and willingness to participate.” Three take-home tips on puppies that Meghan D’Arcy learned from Ocean Park Dog Training’s workshop with Chirag Patel.

"His initial headbangs and foot-lifts are movements that parrots naturally make while walking or courting. But his newer set aren’t based on any standard, innate behaviors. He came up with them himself" What Snowball the dancing parrot tells us about dance by Ed Yong.

Ancient dogs’ spines and modern dogs’ puppy eyes tell us a lot about the human-animal bond. Two new studies shed light on our early relationship with dogs by David Grimm.

"But there’s a sadder story, too, one that gets less publicity, because each person thinks it’s happening only to him or her." 'I am my dog's emotional support animal' by Beth Teitell.

Can dogs heal hearts and minds? Recording of a discussion at LaTrobe University on how psychological assistance dogs can help people with and the need for scientific research in this area. Features Mia Cobb, Prof. Pauleen Bennett, Dr. Tiffani Howell, and others.

Puppies from a breeder’s perspective. Your Family Dog podcast from Julie Fudge Smith and Colleen Pelar speaks to Flat-Coated Retriever breeder Judy Gladson about being a breeder and very early puppy development.

Wonderful goat photos by Kevin Horan at The Guardian.

Animal Book Club

The Animal Book Club takes July off, but you find a list of all the books in my Amazon store.

If you want to get an early start on next month’s book, it's What's a Dog For?: The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man’s Best Friend By Jon Homans.

Support Companion Animal Psychology on Ko-Fi

Companion Animal Psychology is open to everyone and supported by animal lovers like you. If you like what you see, you can buy me a coffee on Ko-fi, or even make it a monthly thing.

This month I’d like to say a big thank you to J Hawn and several anonymous people for their support and kind words. You help me keep this blog going and I really appreciate it!

Here at Companion Animal Psychology

I had the incredible honour of interviewing veterinarian Dr. Mark Goldstein about his book, Lions and Tigers and Hamsters. As you can tell from the interview, he’s an amazing story teller and there are some great stories in the book. For each story, he shares a lesson he learned about the human-animal bond and the work of a veterinarian. Check out the interview to learn more.

Also on the subject of books, I published a second instalment of the animal books that changed people’s lives. People who work with animals (or love having animals in their life) share the one book that made a difference to them.

An important study of dog bites in Calgary finds that most dog bites happen at home. As well, no particular breed group can be blamed, as the data shows bites from all kinds of dogs.

I wrote about the inspiring class about art and animals that Dr. Marc Bekoff teaches to the inmates at Boulder County Jail and also shared a guest post from one of the former students in the class. Don’t miss the piece or the beautiful artwork that accompanies it.

And finally, the five pillars of a healthy environment for cats tells you what you need to know to get your house set up to keep your feline friend happy.

Pets in Art

This month's pets in art is titled Kaufman (dog) and dates from 1905-1909. The portrait is by C.M. Bell, photographer, and is in the Library of Congress collection.

Companion Animal Psychology News July 2019. Pets in Art shows a dog portrait

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The Healing Power of Art and Animals for Inmates: Moon Bear Has a Place

An essay by a former inmate shows how other animals can help people move on.

An essay by a former inmate shows how Dr. Marc Bekoff's class helps inmates move on
Dr. Jane Goodall visiting Dr. Marc Bekoff's class at the Boulder County Jail. Photo: Marc Bekoff.

On Wednesday I wrote about Dr. Marc Bekoff’s inspiring class at the Boulder County Jail, and his new website, Boulder Art for Animals, that shows the work of students in the class.

This guest post is by Kyle Warner, an accomplished writer, artist, and former student of the class.(1) 

My personal hero, teacher, and dear friend, Marc Bekoff, comes to the jail faithfully every Friday to facilitate just one of Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots groups. We engage in a lot of profound, meaningful discussions and he helps us to really understand just why animals matter. He also helps us to take part in many causes and worldwide issues between nonhuman animals and humans. With Marc's help, we have had our voices heard within many discussions, court battles, online debates, and protests. Some of these include whether we should reintroduce wild wolves here in Colorado, how to stop the potential trophy hunting of grizzly bears in Wyoming, what to do about the mass killing of elephants, the injustice of rich people hunting majestic lions for sport, and other similar topics.(2)

One issue that stands out for me is the moon bear. Since learning about this beautiful crescent-stamped animal, I have felt drawn to them on a deep level. There is an industry in China where people keep them in small cages to harvest bile out of their gall bladders for Traditional Chinese Medicine. With the help of an organization called Animals Asia, these bears have hope. Animals Asia rescues these bears from coffin-like cages, attends to their medical and psychological needs, and provides them sanctuary in their very own paradise.

In 2017, I drew a few of these beautiful animals. In one was Jasper, who passed away not long after I took on this project. Also in that drawing was Oscar and BeaRtrice, whom Marc named after his parents. He was happy to share my art with Animals Asia and many throughout the world. Since then, I have had an opportunity to share my art with Jane Goodall, probably one of the most fulfilling moments of the last three years for me. Recently, in one of the other amazing groups I get to attend here at Boulder County Jail, I embarked on a brief vision quest during a guided meditation. The gentle, soft-spoken instructions began with an ascent.

Artwork from Marc Bekoff's class at the Boulder County Jail shows how animals can help people move on
Oscar, Jasper, and BeaRtrice. Source: Kyle Warner

Meeting my spirit animal

I imagined my conscious awareness being granted liberty from the limitations and confinement of my body I first hovered above myself before floating up to the ceiling, above the jail, higher and higher, hoping to come back with an animal name.

I was instructed to fly west toward the Rocky Mountains and to proceed past the foothills, deep into the jagged, snowcapped Rockies. I landed in a clearing, perhaps some sort of valley surrounded by mighty aspens on high mountains. It was an almost-familiar place, but nowhere I’ve been before. Everything was much bigger and the colors more vibrant. Most of the mountain peaks were hiding in the heavens, camouflaged by clouds.

I walked for a while, grateful for every stop I took. I found a cave. My group leader, who was guiding the meditation, instructed me to go into the cave. I really wanted to see what was in there or find out where it would lead me. The cave had to be a mile long. The light pouring in from its entrance was quenched by the darkness in minutes. The cool ceiling was dank and the floor slick. I could hear the faint sound of dripping water all around me.

The ceiling dropped lower with every step I took until I was ducking low. It wasn’t long before I was crawling. Eventually, it was so cramped I was using my knees and elbows to proceed. For me, this was a nightmare come true. I’m claustrophobic. A decade in a jail cell will do that if you’re not naturally predisposed to having an aversion to spaces tighter than coffins. No turning back now!

The healing power of animals. Jasper the bear, drawn by an inmate in Marc Bekoff's inspirational class at the Boulder County Jail
Jasper. Source: Michael S., a former student of Bekoff's at the Boulder County Jail

Finally, there was room for me to breathe. A few more yards and I was crawling. Soon the ceiling was high enough for me to walk. What a relief! Now I could see light in the distance and I knew I was approaching a way out. After exiting the cave, I quickly realized that I had just traveled through a portal. I’m not sure if it was a portal leading to somewhere on earth or some other dimension, but I knew I was no longer in the Rockies nor anywhere in or near Colorado.

I proceeded into a strange forest and decided to sit on a tree trunk. I was at a resting place where at least I was able to intentionally appreciate my experience, even the claustrophobia I had felt in the middle of the cave. The beauty around me was indescribable.

I heard rustling up ahead where there were many trees. I could see movement and be able to connect it with what I was hearing. Something was emerging. The first thing I saw clearly was the crescent. It was a moon bear and it was approaching. He came right up to me and we made eye contact.

After that moment, we consented to one another’s presence with empathy, compassion, and understanding, validating each other’s very existence. We accepted one another and connected at the level of consciousness and spirit.

I then realized that my physical self, far away and still in jail, was crying, releasing a whole world of grief, loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, fear, and suffering. This was a moment where I knew my experience would have been incomplete without purging the poison inside me.

A postcard from Jane Goodall to a student in Marc Bekoff's inspirational class with inmates at the Boulder County Jail
A postcard from Dr. Jane Goodall to Kyle Warner. Source: Kyle Warner.

I leaned into the feeling of deep sadness, grief, and attachment, but more than anything, I was saturated with gratitude. That’s when I knew it was time to say goodbye. I really didn’t want to leave and as I’m sure you can imagine, I was reluctant to return to jail. I was so free and for once I felt validated. I was glad to hear my brother who was guiding me say that even though I had to leave, my new friend would forever remain with me.

This is my spirit animal—the moon bear. I came to know that regardless of how some of these bears are treated in captivity, even they have a place in the world. I, too, have spent much of my life in captivity and confinement. I’ve done a lot of damage in this world, but deep within I’ve known all along I have a place and it is my calling to be part of something bigger than just me.

I have ventured far away for these affirmations and am returning with a new name: Moon Bear Has a Place.

(1)Posted with Mr. Warner's permission. I'm not the only person who was moved by Mr. Warner's essay. So too, were many other students and jail administrators. Another essay to which students in my class contributed is "Among Homeless People, Dogs Eat First and 'Absorb Empathy'."

(2)Here are some other essays that focus on Dr. Bekoff’s class at the jail.
Roots and Shoots: A unique program at Boulder County Jail has inmates learning from nature
Inmates, Animals, and Art: Creative Expressions of Hope
Nature Behind Bars: Animal Class Helps Prisoners Find Compassion
Inmates and Art: Connecting With Animals Helps Soften Them

This guest post was originally published on Dr. Marc Bekoff’s Psychology Today blog with the title The Healing Power of Animals: Moon Bear Has a Place.

For more guest posts by Dr. Marc Bekoff, see "Bad dog?" The psychology and importance of using positive reinforcement. You might also like my interview with Marc Bekoff about his book, Canine Confidential.

About Dr. Marc Bekoff: Marc is professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has won many awards for his scientific research including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior. Marc has published more than 30 books and three encyclopedias, and writes regularly for Psychology Today on "all things dog" and various topics focusing on animal cognition, animal emotions, and compassionate conservation. His homepage is and, with Jane Goodall,

The healing power of Marc Bekoff's class at the Boulder County Jail. Photo of Marc Bekoff
Marc Bekoff with Minnie

If you would like to propose a guest post, see the guidelines here. There is also a full list of guest posts on Companion Animal Psychology.

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Inmates Find Meaning in Class on Connections with Animals

Boulder Art Behind Bars has been changing lives for almost 20 years.

Wolves are a model for many students in the Art Behind Bars class. Photo shows wolf in birch trees
Wolves are a model for many of the students. Photo: Holly Kuchera/Shutterstock

For almost 20 years, Dr. Marc Bekoff, scientist and author of many books including The Emotional Lives of Animals and Canine Confidential, has been teaching a class at Boulder (Colorado) County Jail. Inmates must apply to join the class, which meets once a week and allows them to express themselves via different artistic media. It focuses on topics such as conservation, animal behaviour, and the inmates’ well-being. A new website, Boulder Art Behind Bars showcases the class and the work of the inmates.

The class is part of Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program, which aims to “foster respect and compassion for all living things”. Goodall even visited the class in 2015 and has kept in contact with some of the students. The website was developed in collaboration with artisan and web designer Stephanie Wencl.

The class has a profound effect on the inmates who take part. Writing about the class in his Psychology Today article, Art Behind Bars: Animals, Compassion, Freedom, and Hope, Dr. Bekoff says,
“The class and the students' artwork give them meaningful experiences, and in their drawings, sculptures, and writing, they express hope and trust. The work they do provides a forum for deep and informative discussions about other animals, nature, their connections to the outer world, and themselves.”
This is apparent in the art produced by the inmates. The Boulder Art Behind Bars website shows examples of their writing, drawing, jewellery-making, and other artworks. It is divided into sections such as creativity and expression, softening and vulnerability, and trust and hope. These sections show that the work of the class is not just related to animals, but also to gaining a deeper understanding of the self and of people’s role in society and in the natural world.

In the section on acceptance, self-confidence and integration, we learn that
“Wolves are a strong model for many of the students because they have been wiped out of their historical range and in some areas they are making a comeback because they have been reintroduced to their former communities. While many people accept them, there are many who don’t.” 
Like many others, I also love wolves and find them fascinating animals. So I was intrigued to learn that they are an important symbol for many of the students. Given the way that wolves are both loved and hated by different people, I can see that discussion of wolves would be an important and valuable part of the class.

There are many success stories of inmates who have integrated back into society, and Dr. Bekoff shares a number of them in his essay. Here is one that I especially enjoyed reading:
“One day as I was cycling through Boulder, someone called out, “Hey, Doctor Coyote!” and it turned out that he had been in my Roots & Shoots class and was determined to never re-enter corrections facilities. He had worked himself up to being a road manager for the Department of Transportation.”
One former student even named his son after Marc.

One thing that all teachers know is how much we can learn from the process of teaching itself. Teaching is not a one-way transmission of information from teacher to student; rather the interactions with students cause us to reflect on our own knowledge and learn more about ourselves and our place in the world. One of the great things about Dr. Bekoff’s essay is that he reflects on what he has learned from teaching the class. He says,
“My experience at the jail had positive effects on the way I taught at the University of Colorado. The students' enthusiasm and curiosity also helped me change some of the preconceived notions I had about inmates. Our discussions about topics including fairness, resilience, rehabilitation, retribution, compassion, freedom, justice, restorative justice, and hope were, at times, riveting.”
I found reading about the program very inspiring, and I can imagine many people who are not inmates would also enjoy taking part in such a class! So it is good news that people who are in a situation that is difficult, and where they are going to need to do a lot of work to integrate back into society, can benefit from the class.

Perhaps the last word should go to one of the things Dr. Bekoff realized from the class:
“Among the many lessons I've learned are that uninformed stereotypes don't work, and there is always hope.”
Stay tuned for a guest post about this life-changing class coming soon.

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