There is something about animals that is very life-giving. When fellow humans lack to understand, pets can give nonjudgmental care and their own type of love. It is as if animals only understand the raw emotion and sympathize with that. They do not consider if you are right or wrong but instead just give you comfort and support in the moment. Because of this, many types of animals are being used for therapeutic services more and more.
Ever since I was a baby, I have loved animals. Growing up, we had two dogs named Shadow and Polly. Although Shadow left us for another family before I can remember, Polly remained with us until we moved into the city for a short time. This beautiful German Shepherd-Lab mix also had several litters of puppies which I loved to play with before they were sent to new homes. Even today, I sometimes think about Polly and hope that she had a loving life after we gave her away.
Then, came my goldfish. I won my first one at a fair. When it died that same night, I was heartbroken. My compassionate mother bought me three more. Over the years, my sisters and I often each had our own fish that we liked to watch swim in a pebble-lined clear bowl. Another pet we all shared was a cute little hamster named Whiskers. He should have been called Houdini for all the times he escaped his cage. When we buried him in our garden, I cried about never holding or stroking him again.
Yet, the pet that has fit best into our family came as a surprise to us all. My mother loves birds and thus always hated cats. However, when we moved back out to the country, we spotted a tiny kitten wondering around. Although I called to the shivering animal, he shied away nervously. Finally, on the first day below zero that year, this tiny being came up to me with entreating mews. This day, miraculously, was exactly a year after my mother had a devastating miscarriage and the cat would have been born around the same day as the baby. We brought him into our home and named him Angel. Timid but so gentle, he stayed with us for eleven years. In spring 2011, while I was sinking quickly into Anorexia, Angel slipped away and died quietly away from our home. Devastated and lonely, I begged my mother for another cat.
A little less than two years ago, I spent three months living away from home in residential treatment for my eating disorder. This time held some of the hardest but also best days of my life as I grew healthier, wiser, and stronger. Three days after I moved in, I celebrated my 20th birthday. To my great shock, my mother brought a sweet little kitten named Princess to meet me. My new pet gave me a reason to visit home and fight for recovery.
Another life-giving part of this stay out of my home was seeing the medical doctor’s dog. Because she knew my love of animals, this doctor invited me to come down and pet her sweet dog. Not only did I feel honored and remembered by the way this medical caregiver reached out to me alone, I also enjoyed having time to play with an animal. After communicating with people all day, it was nice to relax with a dog.
Now that I am home, I still love to play with my now grown Princess. Crazily enough, she had two litters of kittens within the first year that we had her! Although we only kept one, watching her raise those ten little fluff balls was so enjoyable and inspiring. We still have one of her sons, Lexi, and they are both just such sweethearts. I still think about Trekker, Stardust, Squeaker, Moonbeam, Precious, Pippin, Merry, and the other kittens often. But I know that I am so blessed to have mud-tracking but harmless Lexi and playful affectionate Princess.
Using your pet as a type of therapy is very simple. First of all, you simply need to spend time with them. This can be taking a walk or playing a game or just sitting and stroking them. As long as you are caring for them and yourself, whatever you choose to do is fine. Secondly, any type of animal can work. Most people think of dogs or cats but horses therapy is very common as well. Rabbits, hamsters, and other such creatures can be stroked while fish, birds, pigs, reptiles, frogs, and llamas also can work. That is just the beginning of the list! Truly, I think that even a lady bug, gently crawling on your hand, can be a form of pet therapy. Whatever works best for you and is accessible in the moment is the main key.
Thus, pet therapy is a simple but very effective coping skill. Not only will you gain peace and joy, the animal will also enjoy the attention. Whether you play fetch with a dog, watch fish in a doctor’s office tank, curl up in a chair with your cat, or feed the birds outside your house, being with animals can bring about great healing and hope. When you see no light in the world, watching innocent and marvelous creatures can be a reminder of the beauty that still shines brighter than the darkness.