How Pets Help Us Heal

by Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

Life would be very different if I didn’t have my pets. There have been times in my life when having a pet was not realistic. In the back of my mind, though, I knew when the time was right, pets would come back into my life.

Why Are Pets So Important?

1. Pets are great company. As a child, I always wanted a dog. When I was young, we had a little terrier. My Dad brought him home after my Mom had just had a baby. Bad timing for sure, especially since my Mom wasn’t the one fond of pets. We eventually had to find him another home. I was heartbroken.
After that, my youngest sister, that baby, was diagnosed with asthma. That definitely put the NO factor in the equation. Interesting fact though, she, as an adult, has generally had a dog and a cat. For her, as a single woman, they are her company – and her children – and her stress reliever which helps her asthma.My first pet as an adult was a little black kitten. I’d never had a cat before so it was a new experience. Chelsea was awesome. She came into my life at a time when I needed comfort and company. She totally provided both – plus lots of entertainment and challenges. She was a tree climber. Many a night, I went to bed hoping she’d make it down in the morning. For sure, I wasn’t able to climb up the tree and help her.

2. Pets help lower blood pressure and thus reduce anxiety and heart issues. The vibration of a cat’s purr will energetically impact your energy field to reduce anxiety and thus your blood pressure. Dogs, likewise, are great because when we pet them, and we all know how much they love that, it creates a state of meditation – for both you and the dog. Meditation lowers blood pressure. Plus a dog’s smile melts your heart. Who wouldn’t feel less anxious and stressed – more like warm and fuzzy?3. Pets provide comfort. There is nothing like a cuddle from a cat or dog. Mine is too large for a lap cuddle, mostly – she tries. She’s an 80 lb. lab/border collie cross. But Bear does sit beside me, stretches out on the floor of my office while I’m working, gives me licks to say she loves me, butts her head under my ‘mouse’ hand when either I or she need a break and is my walking buddy.

The new addition to our pet family, Buddy now a 1 year old cat, has bonded with my husband. They share naps with Buddy curled around his feet and legs. With me, I’m his surrogate Mom and playmate so not as many cuddles yet. He is getting better at being picked up and snuggled without wiggling to get down and play. There is hope. He’s also Bear’s buddy which was the original intent.Nursing homes and hospice centers often allow pets because they provide comfort, especially to someone who is frail, bedridden, or just mentally challenged. Pets seem to ‘get it’ and are just there for whatever is needed in the moment.

4. Pets provide comic relief. Who hasn’t laughed at the antics of a kitten or a puppy or even adult pets? I love how they try to talk to us – woofs and meows – and many versions thereof. Some are truly hilarious.
My husband was relating the other day that he was lying down for a nap when the back doorbell rang. He couldn’t figure out who would come to the back door and had totally forgotten that the dog was outside enjoying the warm weather. Imagine his surprise when he got to the back door and saw Bear sitting at the door waiting for him. She’d figured out how to ring the doorbell so he would let her in.Laughter is great medicine. It’s that internal massage which releases wonderful endorphins and stuck emotions. There is nothing better than a good old belly laugh. Pure medicine in itself!

5. Pets give us unconditional love. No matter what is going on in our life, our pet will always be there to make it better. They don’t have any other agenda than to be our friend. They are the friend that greets us at the door after a long day. Even when we are not in the best of moods, pets are often there when others retreat. There is no judgement. There is only love.6. Pets are there for us when we grieve. I still remember my sister’s dog that was there for me when my Mom passed away. My Mom and I were really close. I spent time with her when I went back home – good time. When she passed away, I knew those times were forever lost to me even though I would always carry the memories in my heart.

That night, after the funeral, her loss hit me hard. I cried most of the night. Cash, my sister’s lab, crept up onto the bed and laid his big head on my chest. He stayed with me the whole night while I grieved. Cash and I had a relationship from before because I was always the one when I visited who took him for long walks. He remembered. However, more than that, he knew I was hurting and gave his love and support through that long night. I still tear up when I think about it.

7. Pets make us create time for them – and ourselves. My dog, Bear, is my walking buddy. She needs her walk on a daily basis – as do I. However, I have other options for fitness that Bear doesn’t. I teach dance classes, have a rebounder, can go to a mall on a rainy day and walk the mall or go to a gym. Bear can’t do that so it is up to me to take her out every day, rain or shine, hot or cold. It moves me outside my comfort zone often. We both benefit even on the less than ideal days to be walking.

Do all animals offer a healing benefit?

Absolutely! I’m most familiar with dogs and cats because they are what I’ve had in my life. My grandmother had a budgie bird that kept her company. It was allowed to fly around her apartment, sit on her shoulder, or be carried on her hand. It even gave her kisses. My uncle raised these budgies as a relaxing hobby for him.

Other people have rabbits, hamsters, ferrets, parrots, etc. – all have their unique ways of providing unconditional love and healing energy. Even snakes, so I’m told, although that would be the last pet on earth I would ever have in my house. In fact, my stepson got one when he moved out on his own. Obviously you know I nixed the idea while he was at home.

Time Considerations in Choosing a Pet

This is often the determining factor in deciding which pet you’d like to introduce into your family. They do take time and commitment. Dogs are most intensive because they require that daily walk. Cats can be left on their own over a weekend. Other pets have routines that need maintaining. If you like to travel, it means having a pet sitter or family/friend to look after them while you’re away. This fact often stops people from getting a pet.

When I’ve traveled, I hired a pet sitter. It’s an expense that I factor into my vacation plan. At this time in my life, my husband is not traveling with me, so he looks after the pets. However, when we did travel together, this was our way of managing pets. Other people choose the kennel option. That works if you know the people who run the kennel and feel confident that your pet will be well looked after and come home healthy.

Are Pets Worth Having?

All in all, pets are true healing energy. If you are on your cancer journey, they can be your best friend. They can be there to give you that love when you need it most. Their calming energy will sustain you in times of crisis. They will also help you think outside yourself and move you into a positive space because pets show that they also need you. They can make the difference in how you think and feel. In my view, and only my view, pets add incredible value to life – my life in particular. What about your life?

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