Nicole Birkholzer, founder of Mindful Connections©, is a mindfulness expert and relationship coach. When her pets began to show her how to tune into their true language, Nicole’s life shifted miraculously, and she understood firsthand their astonishing ability to transform our lives from ordinary to extraordinary. As a retreat leader, author and critically ac¬claimed speaker, her mission is to facilitate mindful connections between people and pets—one story, one talk, one retreat at a time. She lives in Vermont with her partner David, two horses, three kitties, one goat, and a pup.
What inspired you to write Pet Logic?
It all started when I got Cookie, a black and white cat.
We had put the finishing touches on our brand-new barn. It was exciting to finally bring our three horses home, except keeping horses in the backyard meant we were inviting rodents to the property too. We needed a cat.
And though I was initially only looking for a mouser, Cookie quickly showed me how foolish I was to think that I would “hire” a cat for rodent control while providing food and shelter in exchange. Within a few weeks I was in love … and intrigued! To understand Cookie better I decided to pay close attention to learn how we could bond more deeply. Inspired by her ability to show me the world through her eyes, I sent a story about our relationship to a local newspaper. The editor liked it so much that I was offered a monthly column where I could share my perspective on our relationships with animals.
Of course I said yes and started writing under the header “Mindful Connections.”
Pet Logic is a collection of some of the most inspiring experiences I had with cats, horses, dog, and a variety of unusual animals like raccoons.
What do you hope for your readers to take away from Pet Logic?
From what I heard so far, Pet Logic is a fun read for children/young teenagers because it confirms what they experience as normal ... that we can communicate with animals in this magical way. And, I think adults feel brought back to a time when they had a pony, dog or kitten that change their lives forever. Pet Logic shows that we are all capable of having special moments with our pets if we get present and see the world through the eyes of our furry or feathery friends. I hope Pet Logic inspires the reader to try it. I hope it brings people and their pets together in a new and mindful way.
Why did you mix stories with those whimsical cartoons?
Some of the experiences I have with animals are quick little snapshot moments that are better illustrated in a visual. For example, the cartoon “Appreciation” was inspired by the dog of a friend. I was visiting, and her dog kept running to the door barking like crazy every time someone walked by her house. My friend kept yelling “Stop it, enough, quit the barking.” To no avail.
As I watched the scene, I noticed that the dog was feeling really determined and purposeful racing to the door, announcing the walk-by. So I figured, why not acknowledge the effort? Next time the pup headed to the front door woofing along I said “Thank you for letting us know. Good watchdog.” The dog stopped in mid-bark, gave me an astonished glance and went to the doggy bed. My friend was flabbergasted.
Since then, I have heard from many people who have tried this technique of appreciation with their dogs. It works.
It was initially challenging to find an artist who could translate these little anecdotes into a fun and educational cartoon, but once I met Maura Condrick, the illustrator of the artwork in my book I knew I had hit the jackpot. Her style, the attention to detail Maura put into the expressions of the people and animals, is genius.
I could imagine people will want to try a lot of those things they read about in Pet Logic pets. What do you recommend, where do they start with their pets?
It’s pretty simple but not easy. What do I mean by that? It is simple because all we need to do is to become less distracted and more present when we interact with our pets so we can see the world through their eyes and respond in kind. However, and that is the hard part, we live on such a fast track that stopping, taking a deep breath and becoming present is challenging for most of us. Our mind constantly jumps back and forth thinking about the past or the future, while our pets live contently in the present moment. The stories and cartoon anecdotes in Pet Logic remind the reader of those times when time stood still and so the magic could ensue.
And to help pet owners meet their pets in the now, I created a short fun online course in which I guide you through a couple of activities that will connect you and your kitty, dog or horse in extraordinary ways.
It appears that quite a few of the animals in your book came from some unfortunate circumstance. Why do you think you attracted those animals that were often lost or abandoned?
I am a sucker for the underdog, always have been. When I was a young kid, every day after school, I hung out at a local farm. I spent afternoons and weekends feeding calves, watching the silage process, and, most important, brushing cows. I still remember hopping on the tractor at four o’clock when the farmer and his sons drove to the cow pasture for the evening milking. While the boys fed the cows and the farmer milked, I took an old metal currycomb and a bristle brush and scraped patties off the cows’ hide. Something told me the cows would appreciate that someone cared about them beyond their milk, cared about their well-being.
Decades later, I left my high power career in advertising to work with horses and individuals with physical or cognitive challenges. I began not only to see the world through the eyes of my students, but also through the eyes of our equine facilitators.I started to take in horses that nobody wanted, next I’d run into someone at a coffee shop who was looking for a home for an ailing goat and aging sheep … both ended up in my back yard within minutes. I love all animals, but helping animals who are in distress, have been abandoned or simply been forgotten fills my heart like nothing else. That’s why I collaborate a lot with animal rescues and give part of the proceeds of my book to those organizations that care deeply about rescues.
Is there one pet in the book who you have an extraordinary relationship with?
Oh, that is such a hard question. Of course Cookie is special because she got me started writing about my experiences. Then there was Jesse, a 32 year old draft horse, who changed my life forever. Jesse was the most incredible teacher. He was patient, but determined. I always felt he wanted me to ‘get it’, wanted me to pay attention so I would truly understand what it felt like to be a horse. Because of Jesse I developed an incredible communication and decision-making tool I called the Mindful Connections Wheel. With this mindful tool, the relationships with our four-legged friends – and our two legged too – becomes deeply meaningful and changes our lives forever.
I feel terrible not mentioning all the animals that have change my life, but I think I need to give a quick shout-out to Scout, my newest teacher. Scout, we believe, is a Border Collie mix from the south. When I met Scout, I envisioned him to become my road companion, spreading the word of Pet Logic at schools and community events. Turns out, Scout is not interested in being a traveling ambassador. Scout gets nauseous in the car and he can’t stand being leashed and brought into small or crowded spaces.
So I had to accept reality, put my vision on the backburner and understand that, as of right now, Scout loves to roll around on the grass, run through the fields, and find jobs on our farm in Vermont. Scout taught me, accepting and embracing Scout for who he is allows him to develop into the dog he was always intended to be. And I can’t wait to learn more about him. There might just be another book in the making.
I am curious, I see you are a life and business coach which I understand, but you are also an animal intuit. What is an animal intuit?
Fun question. In short, as an animal intuit I connect with animals in an intuitive way. When I am intuitively connected I not only take the animal in with my sense: observe with my eyes, touch with my hands, smell with my nose, but I tune-in at a less tangible level, intuitively. Initially, in order to receive information intuitively, I became present with the animal, observed the most minute expressions and behaviors, took conscious breaths, expanded my heart to the animal, and then, occasionally, received information from the animal that was not expressed physically. At times I would get a message, at times I knew where the animals body hurt or needed attention. I recall a horse that shared with me that she was tired of always being ‘the good girl”. I saw her being pulled out of her stall again and again because she was such a good horse. Then I got the sense that she was missing ‘her person’. When I later shared the information with the horse’s owner, I learned that the woman had recently gotten a new riding horse who she was training to show, she and had stopped riding her mare and was using her as her go-to horse for beginner lessons.
Nowadays, information often floods in effortlessly when I connect with an animal in person, or when the owner of the animal talks to me about their animal via phone or email. I believe animals can sense that I am always open to receive information, that I am ready to share what the animals wants us to know.
Thank you Nicole.
Thank you so much.