Pets and The Pursuit of Happiness

So I’ll be the first to admit last Friday was excruciating because of one of my pets.

Maybe you've had one of those moments in life where all of the sudden the lenses change, you’re looking at things totally different, and scared to death. Everything you were taking for granted is suddenly waiting to be slipped right out from under you. That was me. As a therapist, I've got rules on things I’m willing to disclose about myself. The rule of thumb is if it’s in the benefit of the client, and over the years, I've been asked all kinds of stuff by many a curious client. Some stuff I answer, some I don’t, and when all else fails, a few of my clients would just fill in the blanks based solely on things they must have imagined about me. “So you’ll be baking cookies with the boy and girl children that you have that are probably 2 and 4 this weekend…” But there were a few things I had no problem disclosing: prior military service and that I love my dogs. Seriously. Just love them. Salvo has a very special bond with me and a story of his own, and he came along when I least expected it at a very hard time in my life. He’s my best friend, my boy. So when I had to make an emergency visit to the vet, drop him off and leave him (their rules, not my choice) and wait for hours before I heard the results of x-rays, blood tests, urinalysis, etc., I had a lot on my mind and I was scared that I’d lose him.
Pets

A fine picture of my Salvo when he wasn't ill.

So this brings up a favorite topic of mine: pets and wellness. Pets can do so much for us, as we can for them. When the bond is tight, and special, there is nothing else like it. Something happens and the relationship falls into an atonement, where truly there are unspoken agreements between two beings that are not even the same type of animal. As much as we can read the body language of our animals and understand a nervous, upset, scared, threatened, hurt animal, they can do the same in us. And when this beautiful, really miraculous, relationship evolves, over time they understand our routines and rhythms, learn our speech, our sleeping habits, when we check the mail, what an unfamiliar car sounds like, and even if we are having nightmares. Amazing, huh? There are tons of mental health benefits for having a pet. It increases socialization and decreases isolation; for example, just taking a dog for a walk increases the chances that you will talk to other people because many times people will want to stop to pet it. They provide comfort, reduce loneliness and depression, and help reduce anxiety. Having pets can even help with physical health—petting an animal helps release hormones that calm like oxytocin, which is the same one that helps people bond to each other (I call this the snuggling one). Pets even help lower blood pressure and with moving your body around more. Animals are used for all types of service to humans, such as for those that have a disability, be it physical or mental health, but also for military and police work. One of the things that is seldom mentioned, though, is the bond between the animal and the handler. Even if an animal is used for a service purpose or a mission, this does not denigrate the relationship; often it makes is stronger. The animal will literally go into battle without pause or thought to their own well-being. So if animals bond to handlers during service work, even if it’s a “job” to them, imagine the possibilities within the home or family structure and the strength of the relationship! One of the things I often assess for are pets because for many people they offer a protective factor, a kind and gentle ear that will listen with nonjudgmental support and offer unconditional positive regard. Kinda what everyone is looking for, right? Except for the penchant for eating shoes and socks, or getting into the trash… (This is the part where the blood pressure goes up for a minute!) I've known people to say they won’t get pets because they won’t go through the heartache again. And man, I know because I've been there. It’s awful and it’s heart-wrenching pain. And our pets, they grieve too. There are countless stories of German Shepherds sleeping on owner’s graves, or of the famous Akita in Japan who went daily to the train station for 9 years at the same time to wait on his owner after his death, as they did every day during his owner’s life. So ironically, two days before the emergency vet visit, I posted an article on grief on my Facebook page with the most intuitive and beautiful grief quote I have ever come across: “Grief, after all, is the price we pay for love.” David Malham. Grief as the price for love And it’s true. I thought about it all day that Friday as I worried, thought about my favorite times with him, and tried to keep from thinking the worst case scenarios or imagine my life without him. Because I would grieve and I knew it when I first locked eyes with him. So are you curious about what happened to Salvo? Well, I got a call 7 hours after I dropped him off, and the vet said he was eating just fine, tests were all normal, and he was happy as could be. It turned out he had eaten something inappropriate and this was easily taken care of at the vet. The best moment? When I pulled up and the vet tech met me at the door with him. The minute he saw my car he knew it was me and couldn't wait to see me. I will pay that price any day.
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