animal health consulting

Stories: Miss Lilly plays fetch

Christine King  BVSc, MANZCVS (equine), MVetClinStud

Years ago, when Miss Lilly was young, I was playing around with the concept of using mental imagery to communicate thoughts to animals nonverbally and nonphysically. (Do you see me trying to wriggle out of using the word 'telepathy'? :-) I don't recall exactly what I was reading at the time, but it was around about when I read The Field by Lynne McTaggart.

As well-loved dogs tend to do, Miss Lilly had a toy basket that was full of all sorts of dog toys. (Yes, I was one of those dog owners! :-) One was a rubber ball, a little larger than a tennis ball, that had the pentagonal soccer-ball pattern on its surface, only it was orange-and-white instead of black-and-white. To her, there was nothing particularly remarkable about it; the ball had a good 'mouth feel' (i.e., it fit well in her mouth and it was fun to chew), but it wasn't her favourite toy, by any means. She'd only play with it if I got it out and threw it for her.

She was no good at playing fetch; she just didn't see the point! She loved to chase things — live things, in particular. But I think she reasoned that if I'd thrown the ball away, I must not want it anymore, so she wouldn't bring it back.

That's the background to my experiment, which began with me sitting on the sofa and holding out my right hand such that my palm was up and my hand formed a soft cup. I rested my elbow on my knee so that I could keep my hand in place, at Lilly height, for as long as it took. The toy basket was on the floor, to the left of the sofa from where I sat, and the orange-and-white ball was sitting near the top, in amongst her various other toys.

Miss Lilly, ever interested in what I was doing, was sitting on the floor in front of me. I imagined her going to the toy basket, selecting that particular ball from everything else that was in the basket, and then bringing it over and placing it in my outstretched hand.

Can you imagine what happened next?

Nothing. She just sat there, looking at me expectantly. Undeterred, I kept playing my little 'mental movie' of what I would like her to do, with no particular thought in mind other than "wouldn't it be fun if Miss Lilly went to the basket, got that ball, and put it in my hand."

After a minute or so (although it felt like hours), Miss Lilly got bored and walked away. I got discouraged and stopped for a bit. Then I figured that I had nothing better to do, and I would really like to crack this nut, so I began again.

Miss Lilly came back and stood in front of me again, but this time she was watching me intently. I just kept running my mental movie, with no particular urgency or need for anything to happen; I simply thought it would be wonderful if she acted out my mental movie.

After what felt like an eternity, but which was probably only another minute, Miss Lilly went to the toy basket, picked up that particular ball, and then walked over and put it in my hand, with a "well, that was too easy; what's next?" expression on her face.

I don't remember what we did next. I'm sure I made a big fuss of her 'cleverness', which would have baffled her no end. Such a simple thing to be praised for doing!

Many years have gone by since that day, and my mind is still blown by the result of that little experiment. I haven't dared to replicate it — no doubt, for fear of failing! But ever since that day I have tried to remember to play little mental movies whenever I'm with animals. I show them what I'm planning to do or what I'd like us to do together, and I explain why whenever it would make sense to do that.

For example, I'd show Miss Lilly a little movie of us getting in the car and going to our friends' place. She never liked travelling in the car, but she loved our friends and running wild on their farm with their dogs, so she was far more enthusiastic about getting in the car when I would show her where we were going and what we'd be doing there.

In my next Miss Lilly story, I'll talk about the tyranny of time when operating in this way...

© Christine M. King, 2020, 2022. All rights reserved.

First published on WordPress, 27 Oct 2020.