In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say right up front that I’m an unabashed animal person. I’m writing this in the company of two cats lazing in the sun near my desk. And I’m also a big believer in the way pets calm you, brighten your moods and heal you during hard times and difficult life experiences.
That said, I do realize that not everyone is as passionate about the idea that pets calm you.
As for me, though, I grew up with dogs and cats. I can’t remember a time when there weren’t at least a few animals in the house. My first career idea was to be a veterinarian, and I spent two years as an animal science major. I even had a sheep named Raymond who won first place in the farm animal competition on Ag day at the university!
Throughout my life these animal friends have helped me through some tough spots. And I’ve dearly loved them all. Not surprisingly, I geek out on any research or story (and there are many) that describes not only how pets calm you, but also the therapeutic benefits of the human/animal relationship.
Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms. -George Eliot
Which begs the question: why bother writing more on how pets positively affect mental health?
Partly it’s because I’ve been honored to witness my client’s stories of their journeys with their beloved pets. Over the years, through their eyes, I’ve seen up close and personal the beautiful bond between humans and animals. I’m intimately familiar with the ways pets relieve stress, as well as their ability to reduce and lift symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety. No wonder losing a pet can be as hard as losing a person (and sometimes harder).
Also, considering that there’s been a surge in demand for therapy lately, pets matter more than ever in our lives these days. So here are 5 reasons why I believe pets are so important in our lives.
Dogs are not our whole lives. But they make our lives whole. -Roger Caras
1. Pets calm you because they are playful, and we humans can be so very serious.
Pets, on the other hand, play just because, and often insist you join them. They don’t need a reason or a plan, they’re simply hardwired this way. They make you laugh and remind you of how important it is to give yourself over to purposeless play: deep play that has no agenda, outcome or purpose attached to it. The kind of play that gives you a sense of timelessness and freedom. Even Rocky, my 14-year old cat, still knows how to play this way.
2. Pets are huggable: all that furry goodness just makes you want to touch them and stroke them.
I once had a horse, and really, there was almost nothing better than holding out my flat palm for Molly’s warm kisses, and experiencing the delightful sensation of her velvety muzzle. When you think about it, pets provide a full-on sensory experience. Not only do they get us out of our heads and into our senses, but I believe there can be as much healing power in a pet hug as a human hug, which research has shown can heal loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress.
3. Pets are needy and need you to take care of them.
They have no qualms about howling at your door or walking across your face in the morning. Indeed, they are fully signed on to their job of getting you out of bed or off the couch. And if you’re feeling down or anxious about the day ahead, pets calm you simply by the requirement that you tend to them. They give a routine and rhythm to your day, and they get you moving and into action.
4. Pets calm you because they bestow unconditional love and acceptance.
They’re pretty much always happy to see you. They care about you in their own unique way. And by doing so, they tap into the fundamental human need to belong by helping you feel cared for and cared about. This, in turn, grows your inner nurturer: your sense of self-worth, self-compassion and self-esteem.
5. Last but not least, pets give you hope because they are wise in mysterious ways.
They seem to know things. Sometimes I’ll sit with my cat George as he’s looking out the window. Yes, I know he’s looking for birds and squirrels and bugs. Yet, I can’t help thinking there’s something more in his intent gaze. I don’t know, perhaps I’m projecting my desire to see him as a wisdom figure. Nevertheless, I’m still holding on to my belief that he is a little bit magical. Because, after all, why not?
Time spent with cats is never wasted. -Sigmund Freud
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