- 16 Apr - 22 Apr, 2022
FOUR PAWS FROM HEAVEN
- 21 Mar - 27 Mar, 2020
Given that I have an invariable and irrefutable love for felines, the sound of persistent mewing outside the back door one dark rainy evening, filled me with delight. On opening the door a small tabby kitten looked beguilingly up at me. What to do? I couldn't pick it up and take it in as I was forbidden to bring any cats inside the house. But neither could I leave it there. Being an introvert, I felt a sparking connection with this lost soul sitting outside on its own.
A novice at pets at that time, I poured some milk into a saucer and left it inside the door of the garden shed. The kitten trotted over, sniffed at the milk and settled inside for the night. This pattern continued. On difficult days when I had to get used to solitude, I came to rely on the kitten as a kind of a companion. A few days passed and I decided to convince my mother and bring Oliver inside; Oliver… from the 80’s famous animation Oliver and Company.
Unfortunately, Oliver had a very weak immune system, our days together were numbered only a month long, but in that short period, I realised what domesticated animals are capable of, how they can change our lives. My interaction with Oliver taught me that animals, especially cats, are the product of sorcery, the good kind. They are an undeniable pain 65 per cent of the time and yet are the most beloved to everyone. They make us laugh when we’re grouchy, they bring comfort in difficult times, and even after creating chaos, we find ourselves cuddled with them.
Chances are you probably already know this, pets are kind of good for our emotional and physical wellbeing; you could even say they help us cope during times of hardship and struggle. I’m not new to this idea. As per personal experience, I count petting, playing, or being around animals as a coping skill.
Humans love animals in ways that are similar to how they love their children. From an evolutionary standpoint this may prove puzzling to some. Why would humans dedicate resources like time, money, love, and protection to a member of another species unless they received something in return? Obviously pet ownership does nothing to continue our own species, but perhaps this relationship is made mutualistic by more subtle benefits. Stay with me as we look at all the reasons why a person might benefit from owning, loving, or spending time with an animal.
One word: hormones. According to research and my own experience, when we interact with animals we experience increased levels of oxytocin (otherwise known as the “trust hormone”, “love hormone”, or “bonding hormone”). On an emotional level, oxcytocin helps mothers bond with their newborn babies, human couples establish a greater sense of intimacy and it has been linked to increased feelings of self esteem, optimism and trust. In addition to oxytocin there is some evidence to suggest that interaction with a friendly animal can decrease levels of the stress hormone, and raise levels of the “feel-good” hormone. Taking these benefits into account, it’s no wonder that we’re now finding animals involved with a number of therapeutic interventions. You may have even heard of programmes that bring animals directly into hospitals to help cheer, calm and distract patients.
Pet ownership has been linked to physical benefits such as reduced risk for heart disease, lower stress levels, fewer doctor visits, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. Again we can refer back to hormones. Oxytocin has been found to relive pains like headaches, cramps and overall body aches. And lower levels of the stress hormone accounts for lower stress level which contributes to fewer heart problems. Cats also help heal our bone and muscle injuries. The purr of a cat ranges from 25-150 Hertz. This is the frequency range at which bones and muscles best grow and repair themselves. So, if you have an injury, curl up with a purring feline for a faster recovery. Some studies say that you simply need to be in the same room as the purring cat for the healing frequency benefits. But why not take that opportunity for a comforting snuggle?
I’m sure all you pet owners and animal lovers are thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know.” Whether you were aware of the healing power of animals or you just realised they made you feel good, I encourage you to include your pet in your list of strengths when it comes to coping and healing from grief.
For all you animal skeptics, I get you. I know you’re thinking, “Animal healing is not for me,” and there’s a good chance you’re right. I’m not suggesting you run out and adopt a pet tomorrow, I’m simply asking you to open your mind to the possibilities because you never know when the opportunity to pet a puppy or a kitten might present itself. •
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