The Healing Power of Animals

I always had a love of animals. Growing up, I experienced some  loss around family pets and was apprehensive about bringing a furry family member into my life as an adult. Even though I really wanted to share my life with a pet, I was deterred by childhood experiences and always put off adopting. At one point, a few years ago, I seriously contemplated adopting a cat, at which point a friend of mine said “You need  a cat right now like you need a hole in your head”. Although my schedule was busy, and I agree that this period in my life was perhaps not the best time to foster a relationship with a pet, I opened my home to my neighbour’s cat, who enjoys very late nights outside and prefers to return  way past her owner’s bed time. Having Cali visit my home a few times weekly reinforced my love of animals and when  I  decided it was the perfect time to adopt, my heart led me to contact a cat clinic I passed by here in Toronto. A  sign in their widow invites passersby to come in, meet and adopt rescued kittens. Dr. Gaby at The Bay Cat Hospital rescues cats from a kill shelter and so there are always cats and kittens at the clinic awaiting forever homes. I decided to schedule a visit  and meet a litter of kittens  who tested positive for FIV.  I fell in love with two of them, but did not feel that taking on the responsibility of two kittens was wise, so I adopted Katniss….two months later, I came back for her sister Lulu, who was still waiting for a family as her positive FIV status was keeping people away. I just could not stop thinking about her.

Katniss and Lulu (the photo is of them) have brought joy and happiness into my life, opening up spaces in my heart which I did not know existed. As it turns out, the FIV positive status was a result of maternal anti-bodies, so the girls do not actually have it, but we had some challenges around digestive issues, diarrhea, and 4:30 am feedings (Katniss used to like her breakfast early).  Caring for them showed me just how patient and nurturing I can be and both Lulu and Katniss bring out the best in who I am.  With time, we got to know each other and the three of us found a rhythm. These furry beings are such gentle and loving creatures, with distinct personalities, the characteristics of which continue to surprise me. Lulu is very serious…she hunts toys very seriously, doesn’t like to have her photo taken, she sleeps seriously and likes to hang out on top of kitchen cupboards where her personal space is assured. She is also calm and serene  and always patient. Katniss is bubbly, overly cute and slightly anxious. She loves posing for photos, is very playful, and doesn’t believe in personal space. They are both lap cats and they give and receive affection very easily.

Arriving home after a  day at work and seeing them snuggled together on the couch melts my stress away. And research supports how I feel, as study after study shows that having animals in our lives increases quality of life. Animal assisted therapy has been beneficial for inmates in prison, the elderly in long term care and children in hospitals. I know that some people cannot own a pet due to various reasons, and so I want to assure you that if you are one of those people, there are a variety of ways you can experience the healing power of animals.

Shelters are always looking for volunteers to  show human affection and play with rescues, as they have to learn to trust humans again.  Going to a dog park and just watching dogs play can be a fun and de-stressing experience. Dogs run with such freedom in their hearts and are wonderful models of how to have fun. Squirrels in the park appreciate being fed, and again, watching them scurry about and play together can be healing and heart warming, both for the adults in us and our inner children. Hanging a bird house outside your window with a bird feeder can invite a variety of species, and  is a way to practice mindfulness every morning as you watch the daily activities and antics of birds. A  fish tank can also be a calming and soothing addition to your home. Although the lifespan of hamsters or gerbils is short, these little creatures can bring a lot of joy into your life. Animal sanctuaries outside the city are also an easy way to connect with animals who have been rescued after living under often severely adverse circumstances. Witnessing their transformations as they learn to trust can be a powerful example for us humans.

For me, my furry girls make me laugh, force me to think outside of myself, allow me to love unconditionally and just plain make me happy.  I have learned that my life has to include fur babies for it to feel complete, as being around animals feeds my soul. I want to add, that for our animal friends to make us happy, we need to make them happy.  Pets also need exercise, proper nutrition, grooming, affection and veterinary care. My girls expect exercise daily.  They also require stimulation, and I am happy to oblige as animals can also experience mental health issues in terms of depression and anxiety and employing preventative measures can go a long way in assuring good health outcomes. So I encourage you to get curious about how you and a pet can rescue each other, and how you can both enrich one another’s lives.