By Allison White, ACSW, LCSW, CCDP-D
Wellness Alley, LLC
They make us laugh, smile, cry and ? all of a sudden, we?ve forgotten the troubles of the day, the bills, the work left to be done or the loneliness when no one is around. I can?t imagine how different life would be without sharing it with a pet.
What else in our lives has the power to make such a profound change as pet ownership? Having a pet offers health benefits ? like decreased blood pressure, lower blood sugar and reduced rates of obesity ? and mental health benefits ? such as lower stress hormones, and decreased anxiety and depression. Pets inspire us to get up and do something, and often demand it, which forces us to be more active. For those who find it a challenge to meet new people, pets give us an instant icebreaker. They trigger our ?feel good? hormone, oxytocin, resulting in the drive toward connection. We are hardwired to connect with others, but in our busy world, we often find ourselves pushed to achieve fame and fortune, while becoming more isolated. Technology promotes a virtual sense of connection, but it?s not fulfilling in the long run. Sometimes we don?t realize how depleted of connection we are until we soak up the affection our pets give us.
Connecting occurs free of judgment, criticism and competition. It?s about meeting each of us where we are and not where we think we should be. That?s how our pets connect. To our furry companions, it doesn?t matter if we were overlooked for a promotion, or if we?re wearing old sweats and no makeup, or if we?ve gained a few pounds. This special connection between us humans and our pets goes much deeper than the eye can see ? deep into the heart, where true, unconditional love grows. If we allow ourselves to stay there in the moment, it?s there that we experience real life as it was meant to be ? simple, joyful, playful. In the moment, we can experience peace and joy in their simplest forms.
This is what draws us to our rawest emotions when we watch cute animal videos on social media. There are puppies kissing babies, cats befriending birds, dogs saving their people from dangerous situations, elephants playfully dancing to the beat of music, and therapy pets brightening people?s lives. There are animals who miraculously survive tragic situations and rebound to become even stronger. We marvel at the absurdity of some of the animal antics and the remarkable relationships they have with one another, regardless of species. We smile and cry as we watch soldiers reunite with their exuberant pets, or a beloved dog encouraging ?her? child to recover from extraordinary injuries. These ?miracles? give us all hope that, yes, we can overcome adversity, tragedy and pain, and recover from whatever obstacles we?ll have to face. Somehow, watching these animals survive, thrive and embellish life in its simplest form graces us with the gifts needed to move past our own challenges.
Animals fill a void that some of us never know we have until the pet is gone and we are left with the unbearable loss that we were unprepared to face. Even as we navigate through the grieving process, we long to connect with another pet. It?s a risk, since we know our hearts will break again, but the power of the heart-opening connection we experience with our pets will draw us back to them over and over again.
My private practice specializes in counseling pet owners and caregivers who are faced with many challenges of pet ownership. By helping them deal with pet challenges, I open their hearts to the power of the connection, to the healing needed when loss arises, and to connecting again when the time is right. Future articles will address the power of this human-animal connection, so please stay tuned. There?s more to come!
ACSW, LCSW, CCDP-D, CHC