Sarah’s Rap: As the month of love is upon us, I have been contemplating all the sources of love in my life. I am very fortunate to receive love from many angles – family, friends, spouse and children. Each kind of love is different, yet special in its own way. All this love has definitely helped me to cope with illness, stress and challenges over the years. Thank you to all those in my life that love me. I love you too!
A few other “loves of my life” are my fuzzy buddies. As a daughter and wife of pet-lovers, there have been very few times over my lifetime that I have been without a furry friend to love. Those times that we didn’t have a pet, the house felt empty even when it was full of people. What is it about the love from a pet that sometimes feels more comforting than human love? Do I take the human love for granted because I have always had copious amounts? Is it that pets love you unconditionally (as long as you feed them)? Is it because they are always so happy to see you when you come home or maybe because they snuggle so nicely? Whatever it is, the power of a pet’s love is amazing, as is the feeling of loving a pet in return. In fact, it’s downright therapeutic!
Not only have I personally felt happier by being with my pets over the years, but I have also witnessed the amazing ability they have to bring people together and make them smile. I work in a dog-friendly environment so there are dozens of dogs in my building every day. My co-worker says he goes to the dog park area when he’s stressed and needs to unwind. I have a feeling he’s not the only one! Also, you know how people never talk in the elevator anymore because they are too busy looking at their phones? Well whenever a dog is in there with us, it’s a different story. People are smiling, petting the dog and asking questions to its owner. Sometimes they even start talking silly with the pup. It’s pretty funny to see otherwise seemingly-introverted people come out of their shell – and yes I am one of them! There is nothing like a cute canine standing next to me in the elevator to turn me to mush and make me feel more comfortable to start a conversation with a stranger.
There have been many studies over the years that have proven the power of pets to bring cheer, love and healing. NPR has a great article following a study by Helen Brooks, a mental health researcher at University of Manchester U.K., on how pets help people cope with mental illness. The article finds that “People with mental illnesses often see their social groups shrink and find themselves alienated from their friends. For many of these people, says Brooks, animals can break through the isolation. They give affection without needing to understand the disorder.” In addition, the study finds that caring for a pet can provide a welcome distraction for those suffering from illness, help get people out of the house and provide much-needed routine.
There are also wonderful organizations that provide pet therapy to residents at nursing homes or ‘The Monday Life’ which uses pet therapy with hospitalized children to help them heal faster. Read more about their program here as they share a lot about the healing power of pet therapy, including information from a study of pediatric cardiology patients. “The study found that pet visits provided stress relief, normalization of hospital milieu, generation of positive rapport and feelings, and improved satisfaction and morale for patients and parents. The pet visits had both relaxing and stimulatory effects on patients–such as calming a child before a procedure or waking a child after surgery–and these observed effects corresponded with appropriate changes in heart rate and respiratory rate.”
If you suffer from chronic illness of any kind, or are just feeling a little down or lonely, increase the pet therapy in your own life. I know that’s what I plan to do! If you don’t have a furry friend in your life, maybe now’s the time to visit your local animal shelter and bring home a new companion! It could be just what you need to speed up your healing processes and get your happy endorphins flowing. If you can’t get a pet now, perhaps visit a friend or neighbor that has one or try volunteering at your local pet shelter for a double-whammy of goodness. There are many pets out there that need us just as much as we need them.
FURRY PETS + SNUGGLING = LOVE AND JOY
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