Case Note No. 2: November 28, 2020
As in incarnated unicorn, I came to Cape Breton to be a live-in therapy horse for Margaret. These days, many of us are serving in this capacity, and we all have our specialities. Of course, of course, from the patient's perspective, she believes she is the one who is in charge of my wellbeing. (We like to let them think that, as it is helpful to the progress of their treatment.) My patient is a natural writer, and finds fulfilment in writing about her life. We approve of this form of creative activity, which is encouraged and overseen by Archangel Gabriel. It is part of my job to provide her with topics to write about.
My charge has always had a special interest in communicating with animals and birds. She lived for many years in the subtropical environment of Miami, Florida. After she stopped working in the lab as a vision scientist, she worked from home. At that time, her life path was overseen by two live-in therapy parrots named Chaos and Perot. They were African Grey Parrots, a species who have retained the ancient ability to speak to humans, and accurately reproduce the sounds of their voices. African Greys are very intelligent, but a bit mischievous. Sometimes in their spare time the parrots had fun teasing Shadow, the sweet but gullible black-and-white rescue cat. The parrots lived by the pool on the screened-in patio and would call to the cat in Margaret's voice. Poor Shadow would fall for it every time, and would come bounding out of the bushes, expecting a treat or a meal, but to no avail.
It was a bit of a cheap trick, for sure, but it served a greater purpose. It gave Margaret an amusing story to tell other humans when she had to act as if her new life, of being an unemployed scientist, were fun. The antics of the parrots were especially helpful when she was forced to interact with former colleagues who were still working. People were always asking to hear the latest stories about her parrots! Humans living in this world suffer many, many different forms of injustice and disappointment, and companion animals provide great comfort to them. Some of us therapy animals specialize in comic relief, to help our patients heal, and cope with the cards they have been dealt in their lives.
Margaret loves animals, and often wonders how they communicate with one another, even among different species. In her undergraduate days at the University of Toronto, she took a course called Animal Behaviour & Neurophysiology. She really liked the first part, but was not too keen on the second, which was all about nerve transmission and action potentials. I believe it was taught by Margaret Atwood's brother, Harold. Mom wonders to this day why those two subjects were combined into one course. Anyway, she has only recently realized that most animals are here to help humans in some way, and that sometimes we collaborate with others, to achieve a desired result. One that is a win-win for all concerned.
I will give you an example of how I used this approach recently. As previously mentioned, the patient and I live in a house that she designed for us to share. She has the front room, and I have the back, with my own entrance, which is a Dutch door. She sleeps in the cottage at night, but since she needs a quiet place to write, she furnished her room in our house as an office, with two portable desks. She put damask-patterned carpets from Giant Tiger on the floor, hung colourful art glass pieces from Treasure Kave in her windows, and in the corner near my stall, added a space heater in the form of a red wood stove with a realistic-looking fake flame. In her cozy she-shed, she can use her computer, talk to Alexa, listen to music, make her candles, or play her musical instruments, all in my presence. From my room, I can stretch my long neck into her space and keep an eye on what she is doing.
At the front, on either side of the sliding barn doors, she put a stack of chairs for guests in one corner, and in the other, a mini-fridge, electric kettle, and a microwave oven. So she is fully equipped to have guests come and join us, and even offer them a snack. Here is how I helped to keep her busy one day.
I can be quite sociable with people, and enjoy entertaining guests in my house. So I put the idea into her head that we should be prepared to offer tea (the caffeinated drink of choice among most Nova Scotians), and a tasty snack we could all enjoy. In this province, many people enjoy a kind of cookie called an "oatcake" with their a cup of tea. She recalled that in the olden days, people routinely fed oats to their horses. So she got the brilliant idea that we could offer tea and oatcakes to our guests.
A little ways down Shore Road, on Route 19, is Sandeannie's Bakery and Tea Room. It is not Italian, as the name might imply. In fact, it is owned by a Gaelic-speaking couple from Mabou, named Sandy and Deannie. (Hence the name LOL.) Deannie has a diploma in culinary arts and is a great baker. Because horses are not supposed to eat much sugar, Margaret ordered two kinds of oatcakes from the bakery for our tea parties, i.e., one batch with sugar (for the humans) and one batch without sugar (for me and any equine guests). She was happy to support her friends' business, and looked forward to many happy tea parties at Horseplay!™.
What she did not realize was that the oatcake order actually came from the crows, bluejays, and mourning doves on the property. When she offered me a sample of a freshly-baked oatcake, either without or with sugar, I turned up my nose and refused to eat even one crumb! When she tried one of the unsweetened ones, she found that she did not much care for it, either. That's because they were a custom order for my friends the birds!
Margaret and Johannes love to watch and feed wild birds on the property, and they attract them with reasonably-priced seeds and suet cakes from Dollarama. They also put out any leftover food scraps from their dinner table, which the birds share in the driveway. The hardworking birds are around all day, interacting in entertaining ways as they eat from the hanging bird feeders at the back, and more recently, from the picnic table on the front deck. As background, I have to tell you that Margaret missed the June, 2020 deadline for applying for Inactive status with the Florida Bar. In order to keep her license as a lawyer, she had to complete 25 hours of tedious CLE credits before the end of the year. She started putting feed on the picnic table, so that she could watch the birds while she did her online coursework. During that time, she derived much pleasure from watching the antics of the crows and bluejays on the table.
Since they were working overtime to keep her entertained while she worked, the birds asked me if I could arrange for a special dispensation for them. That's when I came up with the oatcake idea. I even arranged for a miscommunication, so that her special order was doubled, to four trays of oatcakes! None of us cared much for the ones without sugar, but the birds loved them!
It's all in a day's work, when you're a therapy horse, tasked with coming up with whinny-whinny solutions for all concerned. I am sure Chaos and Perot would approve.