Local “Animal Whisperer” Bridges Communication Gap

From Santa Clarita Living Magazine (May 2009)
by Mimi Slawoff, Associate Editor

Growing up, Ayamanatara assumed everyone could understand animals. After learning that wasn’t so, she decided to help bridge the communication gap between people and their pets. Today, the Westridge resident conducts workshops, classes and consultations to help pet owners gain a better understanding of their furry family members.

“Animals understand us just fine most of the time. It’s humans who have a hard time understanding what’s being ‘said’ back to them,” says Ayamanatara (‘Natara for short), who is fluent in French and German and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science.

The needs of her clients vary. Some are looking for ways to better understand their pets, while others seek advice for end-of-life decisions, behavioral issues and dietary concerns.

Pat Willett, Community Liaison Officer for the William S. Hart Union High School, says one of her dogs was very skittish and didn’t like to be handled. “‘Natara gentled the dog with her hands and voice and was able to completely check her out. ‘Natara told us the dog’s former name probably started with an ‘S,’ so we named her ‘Sitka,’ and she responded to it right away,” says Willett.

‘Natara, who has two cats, Pi and Schrodinger, also worked with Willett’s rescue horse, which was blind in one eye and deaf. “She talked to him every time she came over and he was calm and docile when she was around,” says Willett.

Although ‘Natara works with various animals, the majority of people who call her have questions about their dogs. Typically, the solution to a problem is quite logical.

Trooper, our Labrador/golden retriever mix, is generally well behaved except he still jumps up on people to greet them. “He likes being eye-to-eye with people,” says ‘Natara.

The solution? The next time he jumps up hold his paws just a bit longer than he’s comfortable with until he gets the message, ‘Natara told me.

Her rate of $125 per visit for up to three animals involves interacting with the dog and educating its owner. The key to a healthy and well-behaved dog, she says, is to have a good understanding of your dog and its breed.

We can learn a lot from our dogs, who mirror back family dynamics, says ‘Natara. Your dog’s behavior may reflect your family’s calm or chaotic lifestyle. “We don’t always notice the patterns in our own lives,” she says.

When communicating with your dog, keep in mind he’s reacting to the emotional content of your words, she says.

Advice from ‘Natara

Who’s the Boss?
Dogs are pack animals and they have a hierarchical view of the world. “It’s really important to make sure you are Alpha in your relationship with them, or you are going to have behavior issues,” she says.

Dogs need a job
Dogs like to have a job or role in the household. “You will have much fewer behavioral issues when your dog feels like they have a set role in their ‘pack.’ It’s an easy enough thing and it makes them happy,” says ‘Natara.

What kind of job? For example, they can be watchdogs, companions or service dogs. Either find a job that needs to be done or assign your dog a task based on its temperament.

“You can do this by telling them about it and holding the expectation that they will do it,” she says.

Some breeds, such as Shelties, enjoy challenges. Put them in agility training to keep them satisfied.

Healthy Diet
Many of the commercial dog foods are low in nutritional value and have unnecessary ingredients, says ‘Natara, who warns against beet pulp (a sugar that thickens a dog’s mucus membranes), wheat and corn. “So many of us read ingredients for ourselves these days, it just makes sense to extend that level of caring to our animals,” she says.

For Trooper, who tends to have dry skin, ‘Natara recommended we add oil-based food to his diet, such as avocado.