Taming Wild Cats With Tibetan Buddhist Chants

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    Taming Wild Cats With Tibetan Buddhist Chants

    by Hank Pellissier, special to SF Gate

    Monday, November 10, 2003

    Jan Bright is the guardian of about 30 abandoned and/or feral cats and kittens in Berkeley. She tames the felines by chanting Tibetan Buddhist prayers so that they can be fixed and adopted out to human homes. Bright, who is homeless herself, seeks to create a sanctuary for wild cats where they can be cared for, tamed and studied for the healing properties of their purring.

    Hi, Jan. How many cats have you cared for, and where did you find them?

    In the last five years, I have rescued and arranged to have fixed about 120 to 130 wild cats. They are all from a six- or seven-block section in Berkeley, and most of them are Manx, Siamese and Burmese. I tamed them in people's backyards, and I've placed about 80 to 90 of those cats, but I am still feeding about 30.

    I place the cats in homes by putting up signs in stores like Pet Food Express in Rockridge, or sometimes I contact people on craigslist who say they lost their cat, and I offer them a kitty similar to the one that they lost.

    Most of the cats and kittens I care for were not born feral. They were abandoned pet cats that started acting scared of people, and people responded by treating them poorly. So, then the cats got more scared. It is similar to how people treat homeless people. I've been homeless for three months. I'm trying to find a place to live, a room in a house in Berkeley with a large yard and garden where I can take care of all my kitties together, because they're all one family -- a friendly colony takes care of each other. There's no in-fighting.

    How do you get wild cats to trust you?

    I give them food and water, and I give them a friendly name. If the cat has only been abandoned for 1 or 2 years, it might warm up to you quite quickly if you start feeding it, because it's already been socialized. But every cat is different. Some cats won't let me pick them up after three years -- they're very afraid that they're going to be dropped, and they don't want to be carried off anywhere.

    The main mistake people make when they try to tame a wild cat is, they try to lunge and grab it and smother it with love. This just terrifies the cat.

    It is better to do chanting from afar. When I feed them, I do Tibetan chants to calm them, especially the shy cats or the ones I've only met recently. The cats don't perceive me as a threat, because the chanting keeps me in a calm state. The cats get used to me, we develop a bond and eventually most of them let me pick them up and carry them over to someone's house to get adopted.

    You give the cats a "friendly name"?

    Yes. If you don't call each cat by a particular name, they stay scaredy-cats. So I give each cat a name that they respond positively to, a name that they like, so they'll realize, "Oh, I am someone!" By calling each cat by their name with a cheerful, inviting tone and talking to them like they're babies, they have all socialized to me quite quickly. They let me pet them and hold them, and I become like their mommy.

    Cats like having names that you can singsong with. There's a Manx with long legs that I call Crusader Katabit because he's like a rabbit. There's also Mr. White Whiskers and Mr. White Toes. It really has to be the right name. I had a cat once that I called Mr. Diamond, but he didn't like that name, so I changed his name to something softer -- I started calling him Sweetie-Boy. He liked that name -- it drew out the softness in his personality. I used to study and do music, and I think that cats respond to different intonations and animated sounds in your voice.

    Whenever I go around to feed the wild cats, I call them with a made-up chant: I say, "Here kitty-witty-witty, here's foody-woody." They know that song, and they respond to it.

    What specific Tibetan chants do you use with the cats?

    I use a variety of Tibetan Buddhist chants that I have learned from various Tibetan Buddhist lamas over the last 30 years. All the chants calm the emotions and minds of all sentient beings by invoking the enlightened compassion of the Buddha. If anyone wants to learn the chants, they should learn them from a qualified Tibetan Buddhist lama.

    When did you first use a Tibetan Buddhist chant with a cat?

    In 1983, I went on a Tibetan Buddhist meditation retreat that was held on a farm near Sebastopol. There were some kittens on the property, and one white kitten often came near us when we were chanting to curl up and sleep. When the retreat ended, I was given this kitten, which I named Zogchen.

    Zogchen liked chants, so I started chanting when I rescued kittens and cats. I also used chants when I went to shelters, to calm down the traumatized scaredy-cats.

    Zogchen eventually died of cancer, but I rescued a kitten later that looked so much like Zogchen that I named him Zogchen #2. I thought he was a reincarnation of the first Zogchen, but he changed color -- he turned out to be Siamese with chocolate points.

    Do you think cats can be Buddhas?

    Buddhist teachings say we're supposed to be human beings before becoming enlightened, but I don't know. When Zogchen died, I said a lot of prayers so that he would reborn as a human, but maybe he was already enlightened. It could well be that there are enlightened beings that are choosing to be reborn as cats to help people who are receptive to cats. I know that Zogchen really helped me.

    You mentioned that you go to local animal shelters to chant. Can you tell me more about this?

    I go to the Berkeley and Oakland and Martinez shelters. There are many cats and kittens in shelters there that are just lost -- they got separated from their human homes. They are friendly cats, but after they get picked up and put in cages they can become claustrophobic and afraid, and then they might get misinterpreted as being wild and aggressive. Those cats often get euthanized because their behavior is misinterpreted.

    With cats and kittens in shelters, I go to each cage and I look directly into their eyes. It's like a communion. I wait for it to relate to me, and I chant until I observe them changing from a fearful state into a more relaxed state. If they are in a more relaxed state, they can get reassessed as being adoptable, and their lives might get spared. In Pinole and Martinez, they euthanize a lot of cats -- those shelters are terrible. What's most important is your intent of compassion, even if you don't know any Tibetan words. Just spending a minute with each cat, saying something softly, is very beneficial. I encourage people to go and visit the shelters even if it is upsetting. Just go with a positive attitude to make the kitty happy -- try to reinforce the life spirit of the traumatized animal with positive intent in your heart.

    How would you like to see cities care for wild cats?

    Ideally, I'd like to get a cat sanctuary -- where wild cats could either live out their lives or be adopted if they became completely tame. People could come and interact with the kitties at the sanctuary. I'd also like the cat sanctuary to be a research facility where scientists could study the healing vibrations of cat purring. It seems that cats heal their own broken bones by purring on them, so perhaps purring can also be used to heal humans. UC Berkeley students could study the effect of purring on patients that have carpal tunnel or repetitive stress disorders, or other physical and emotional ailments.

    If I have a headache or a stomachache, I hold a purring cat up to that spot, and I notice that it makes the pain go away. I also have some nerve damage and muscle pain, and this one cat I had, he was like a sponge -- he would just absorb all the pain and tension out of me. The sanctuary site could be either a few yards put together or a large area that different rescue groups could share, because they have different philosophies. It could be shared by Hopalong Animal in Oakland, Home at Last in Berkeley and Fix Our Ferals, the East Bay group that has fixed 5,000 kitties in the last five years, with their hundreds of volunteers.

    from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=%2Fgate%2Farchive%2F2003%2F11%2F10%2Furbananimal.DTL

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