Through her practice as a life coach and her website, Mindful Connections, Marlboro author Nicole Birkholzer is in the business of helping people live in the moment. And as a life-long animal lover, horsewoman and pet owner, Birkholzer saw that our animal companions – who only live in the present – could be the best teachers to get us closer to that goal.
Recently, Birkholzer spoke with VPR about her latest book, Pet Logic.
How did you come to write Pet Logic?
"Well, it all started about 15 years ago when I acquired a barn cat that I thought was going to be my mouser in the barn. And ... she ended up teaching me a lot of little lessons that I put together in an article and I sent it to a local paper and figured, 'Well, let's see what happens.' And not only was the article accepted but the paper actually offered me a column that I called 'Mindful Connections.' So the book is actually a collection of many of the columns I wrote over the years and I just picked 14 stories that I figured would inspire people to connect in a new way with their animals."
How can people make new connections with their companion animals?
"I think as pet owners, we all have a special connection with them. But I have learned over the years that by observing the animals they actually reach out to us in a deeper way if we are really present with them. So if we meet them 'in the now' where they live – we, as humans are always more in the past or in the future with our thoughts – but if we meet with them by being present with them, there is an opportunity to connect and communicate that is sometimes quite miraculous.
"For the last 10 years I have been actively participating in writing groups, and I would sometimes write my columns in those writing groups. And then when you read your work at the end of the group and get some feedback from people, I noticed people were always like, 'Oh my God, I never thought of this before...' and so I would usually get a really good response and then finally at a writing retreat that was held actually by Suzanne Kingsbury ... who lives in Brattleboro, she said to me after I read a couple of stories, 'You need to put this into a book. That's no question,' and here we are three years later. The book is here."
Do you think anyone can tune into their pets and communicate?
"I totally believe anyone can do this and I already have received responses from people. The book has 14 stories and also a couple of anecdotes that are in a cartoon fashion because some stories were just too short to write up and so I thought, let's do something different and write a cartoon.
"There is one particular cartoon when I stayed at a friend's house and her dog was always barking, barking, barking when someone was at the door and she always yelled at the dog to stop barking. And I knew that the two energies were somehow not matching between the dog and her. So finally, when the dog was barking at someone at the door, I said, 'Wow! What a good job! Thank you for being such a good watchdog!' And the dog stopped in mid-bark, looked at me, and walked over to her pillow and laid down ... what really worked was that we acknowledged the animal for what they are doing instead of fighting them.
"And sometimes a little acknowledgement goes a long way, and not just with animals. I think it's almost like we're building a tribe of people that understand that there's a deeper relationship possible."
Nicole Birkholzer is working on a follow-up book to Pet Logic and a book on her life and experiences with horses. She will host a book-signing and storytelling event at Everyone's Books on Elliot Street in Brattleboro on Friday, June 10 at 6 p.m.