Today's featured guest is the incredible Katya Lidsky. I became aware of Katya through her lovely, totally-my-speed podcast called 'The Animal That Changed You', in which she speaks to guests about the special animals that changed them at a core level. In addition to being a well-known podcaster, she's a writer and a self-termed 'recovering actress'. I told her during our interview that she could also become a motivational speaker or life coach, because I left feeling so inspired and determined. I hope that reading her words inspires you as well.
(This interview has been edited.)
What led you to developing this podcast, wanting to talk to others about the special animals in their lives?
It all starts with Ophelia, my first rescue. She saved my life, she changed my life. I eat a certain way because of her, I foster animals a certain way because of her. I was always an animal lover but I didn't come from a family that was really like that growing up. She made me that kind of animal lover. I adopted her when she was a parvo puppy, and she was really sick. She gave me the love that I always wanted and needed, and she allowed me to give it to her, too. And that changed me.
She was dying of kidney disease last year, and I did not know what to do. I was really scared. My recovery from an eating disorder was tied up in her. There's a saying that you're as sick as your secrets, so I thought I needed to not have secrets. But what I needed was a community, and I got it. I got that great love, I got to have it, that love that I think we all come here for. You see a best friend give a speech at a wedding, you think think god, they got it.
Well I had it. Ophelia was the first time where it was like, oh, oh okay, I got that. I'm so lucky. It was a connection that was different from all the others, like we used to argue! My husband would be outside and I'd come out crying and say 'Ophelia and I got into a huge fight!' It was REAL. It wasn't 'oh everything's perfect', it was real. Sometimes I got mad, and that's not something that's usual for me, not on my own that I felt comfortable expressing, or I didn't know how to hold it or express it. It's still new to me. But Ophelia and I, with her I could get angry, and she could, and it was safe, and it was real.
I was my most authentic self with her. So the podcast became about her, and then it became, not only about her love that I couldn't live without, but also about how I could be this person I was always meant to be, because of her love.
It took me a while to realise, I don't need an Ophelia to be myself. The life I have now is built on that relationship with her. This big beautiful life is because she came first. I get to have everything I have because of us, Ophelia and I. I don't need to worry about finding that again. I got a real clear hit from her early on that every animal out there can be an Ophelia - that is something I felt.
I became a shelter volunteer in 2008, and to date we have fostered 65 dogs. My kids are respectful of the animals that come into our home. I'm hopeful that they will get to have what I have. They understand that animals matter very much.
So you essentially have become a professional dog lover. Can you talk more about that?
Starting the podcast was scary because I was learning a new thing, and in front of people. Learning in front of people is not something we value as a culture, but it is something I very much value, how open it is. I'm learning in front of you, my audience! It makes the shift happen for you, I think, so it's not about how many listeners I get. When you are that vulnerable and honest, those metrics don't matter as much as how you feel when you're doing the thing.
I come from a family (who I'm very close to) that's very 'manage your feelings, learn how to check your feelings, hide them'. And I guess what I want to teach my kids is that how you feel and how you make others feel is the most important thing. How we affect each other in terms of feeling is what we most remember. I think I got that the most from doing this podcast, and being really scared.
I'm also a recovering actress, so that helped, because performing I think is the most general act. I have never been able to perform and simultaneously be in my head. The minute I'm performing, I'm connecting. It's not about me anymore. I always had a hard time with the business part of things because that's not part of it, for me.
Do you miss acting with a live audience, with people in the same room to connect with?
I always miss acting. I love actors and love watching them. I do think it's the most generous thing you can do. You are really up there embodying a story and all these feelings, and it's all for someone else watching it. But I am at my core a writer and that's my heartbeat. I love writing, and that gives me everything I miss about acting. What did I love doing, in my earliest memories: journaling, reading, telling stories, whether with Barbies or something else. That's where it's at for me -- and that's what animals are! They are stories! Each animal has a story: how they've lived, who has loved them - or not. That's their story.
Tell me more about your writing; what are you working on now?
I'm currently trying my first non-fiction proposal about loving dogs, about why you should adopt a dog. Because it's good for you! We pitch it as a selfless act, but it's a selfish act! It's like therapy1 We get something from the exchange too, and that's not a bad thing; why shouldn't we? So I break down exactly why it's the best thing you can for you as well as them.
I'm also working on a women's fiction book on a topic that I'm fascinated by, the type of work that organisations like the Animal Liberation Front do. Really living by the code. I'm in awe of them. I have to live my life constantly making decisions that pull me closer to who or what I love. I know they aren't opposite forces but I know I have it in me to be all in. I'm wired that way, and i love the idea of people who live all in. I think they are amazing.
You've fostered quite a lot of dogs! How challenging is it still? Have you had 'foster fails'?
Fostering is definitely challenging. Every animal that comes into my house is an individual, and the energy shifts. But I'm grateful for that. It keeps it interesting. And I grow whenever we get a new dog in.
My third or so foster was a Belgian Malamute mix named Phoebe. She was kind of a foster 'forced' failure because she was so challenging. We kept trying to adopt her out, but it wouldn't stick. I watched her getting surrendered, over and over. I'd seen it before but with her, she looked right at me and kind of said, "You know what, I'm going home with you." Something happened between us and I just took her home. She was challenging from the start. She was clear she wanted to be with us and that's what would happen. We had to set up our lives to keep other animals safe around her. She taught me everything I needed to know about dogs.
Sassy is beagle, a senior dog. Seniors are my favourite to foster. She appreciated Ophelia so much. She was like, 'oh you're so cool, what are we doing today'. She looked at Ophelia the way I wanted every dog to look at her. She's the last dog who knew Ophelia.
What are you most proud of?
My kids, for sure. I wouldn't change a single thing that has happened in my life because I wouldn't risk not ending up with them.
As for work, I did a one-woman show called 'I'm Sorry' about how a people-pleasing apologist of a woman becomes an animal activist. I wrote and performed it in LA and NYC, and at NYC Fringe. It was so fun to get to talk about animals and loving them in a way that didn't have to be dark. It was something bigger than me. The whole experience from writing to every single performance was very aligned, something I willed. I was so grateful to share it.
Would you do something like that in the future?
I am definitely open to doing something like that again. I am an extraordinarily passion-based person. I cannot phone anything in. I do stuff because I really really want to. If I feel that again, I would absolutely listen to that urge.
Do you have advice for anyone wanting to work in this area, or anyone following their dreams in general?
For anybody who wants to start a podcast, I would say to think about why you want to start it. Is it for your greatest good, and the greatest good of all concerned? Then you should absolutely do it. DM me, I have lots of suggestions - of people to follow, of courses and books to help you. And just, start. What if it's not about how many people listen? What if it's not about your measurements of success, because they shift. My advice for anyone doing anything creative or passion-based is to resist the urge to live by that finish line, those measurements. It is imaginary, and will always be ahead of you. It's an energy leak to think that way. Make it entirely about the work. If instead you focus on the work, if instead you are super generous with the work, then when that stuff comes you will be so great, you will be so happy because you are already happy! It won't have the power to smash you or make or break your life. And it shouldn't! Those outside measurements shouldn't be able to do that for you. So if you can give that your yourself, you can do all that great stuff. You'll be prepared.
How are you currently communicating with the animals in your life?
There's a great book I love called Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas. It's short but talks about how dogs communicate, like in terms of peace and trying to work out issues. I use that a lot. I know it sounds crazy but with Ophelia, I felt like in those last months and weeks, with a senior dog, that time is very sacred. I felt like I could close my eyes and, like somewhere between meditation and hypnotherapy, I could turn a knob in my brain and connect to her, on the Ophelia channel. I could communicate with her and listen to what she had to tell me. It's not something I was trying to make happen or force, it just was. I remind myself of that so I can try to do that with the other animals in my life. I do feel like the absolutely best part of loving animals is that all the communication happens in your gut, it requires you to trust them and the messages you are getting, and really requires you to trust yourself. It's available, it's so accessible if you want it.
QUICK & EASY VEGAN SLAW
My recipe offering is one of my favourite things to make, especially in the summer. it's a big delicious easy coleslaw that takes no effort or time.
1 bag of shredded coleslaw, or shredded cabbage
1 can of organic garbanzo beans
1 bag of sesame sticks, like salad toppers
Salt and pepper
You drain and rinse the chickpeas, mix them in a bowl with the coleslaw, and mix with the oil and vinegar to your liking, along with salt and pepper. All to taste. Then top with the crunchy sesame sticks to act like croutons, but better. And it's so healthy and so refreshing, and so easy for when you need something nourishing fast.
THE TAAP TEN
1. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.
That's from the Twelve Step programme. I heard it and was like, that's me.
2. What's your favourite food to cook?
If I have the time, I like to make vegan mashed potatoes and a tempeh dish where I have to bread the tempeh, making these little fried tempeh strips. But I rarely have it in me.
3. Would you rather order in, or go out to eat, and if so what/where?
Out! Austin's food trucks are the best. There's a truck called Vegan Nom, they have vegan burgers, tacos, milkshakes, it's all incredible!
4. Cake or pie?
5. What never fails to make you laugh?
Besides my dogs, who always make me laugh...I'd say I really get a kick out of watching birds! I'm not a bird person, I don't know the names. But I get a kick out of them. I'm like, what are you DOING? You're singing to that one over there? I always get a lift from watching them. It's fun because they're not animals, it's a different relationship, and it makes me feel and tap into something different.
6. What's your favourite book or movie?
My favourite book is Nicole Krause's History of Love.
My favourite movie is harder to choose! I'll give some faves: Grease, and I also love Grease 2 (Ed. note: YEAH YOU DO! The best!); Dirty Dancing.
And a fave song is Into the Mystic by Van Morrison.
7. What's your biggest pet peeve?
I don't like wire things that aren't flexible with me, like drying racks and hangers. I don't like eating alone when I'm with other people - like being in a restaurant and they bring mine first and no one else is able to join me yet? I'm like, I could do that at home!
8. What is one ability that you believe everybody should possess?
Radical empathy, with no containers, and no controls.
9. What are the songs that make you sing along whenever you hear them?
Proud Mary by Tina Turner! Anything from Mana, this old school Mexican group. And of course 'Hamilton'!
10. Were Ross and Rachel on a break?
I'm going to say that they were, because I want to believe the best in them. I can't help it. (Ed. note: I feel this.)
Thank you so much for joining us, Katya!
To learn more about her, please visit katyalidsky.com and find 'The Animal That Changed You' wherever you get your podcasts.