The Benefits We Experience When Pets (Animals) Are Beside Us
|We Develop More Empathy|
Studies report that children who live in homes in which a pet is considered a member of the family are more empathetic than children in homes without pets.
This could be due to a variety of reasons:
Children see animals as peers. They can identify better with animals than human beings. Animal psychology is very simple. With animals, what you see is what you get. Humans are not as direct. We need to develop talent to read and interpret “body language.” Children can read an animal’s body language.
As children get older, their ability to empathize with animals will carry over into their experiences with people.
|We Develop An Outward Focus|
Individuals who have mental illness or low self-esteem focus on themselves. Animals can help them focus on their environment. Rather than thinking and talking about themselves and their problems, they watch and talk to and about the animals.
Nurturing skills are learned. Most of learn this from our parents. Those who do not learn these skills from their parents can learn by taking care of their pets. By being taught to take care of an animal, the children can develop these skills. Psychologically, when a person nurtures, his/her need to be nurtured is being fulfilled.
Animals can open a channel of emotionally safe, non-threatening communication between client and therapist.
In therapy settings, animals help present an air of emotional safety. If a therapist has an animal in his/her office, s/he “can’t be all bad.” The animal’s presence may open a path through the person’s initial resistance. Children are especially likely to project their feelings and experiences onto an animal.
Animals have a way of accepting without qualification. They don’t care how a person looks or what they say. (Have you ever heard of your dog deciding to go to your neighbors because he or she feels it is better out there?) An animal’s acceptance is nonjudgmental, forgiving, and uncomplicated by the psychological games people often play. They accept you the way you are.
The presence of an animal provides a much needed entertainment to those watching it. Even people who don’t like animals often enjoy watching their antics and reactions. Especially in long-term care facilities, it seems everyone is entertained by animal visits in some way.
Studies have shown that when dogs and cats come to visit a care facility, there is more laughter and interaction among residents than during any other “therapy” or entertainment time. In an inpatient setting, the presence of animals encourages socialization. Staff members have reported that it is easier to talk to residents during and after animal visits. Family members often come during the animal visits and some have reported that it is an especially comfortable and pleasant time to come.
Mental stimulation occurs because of increased communication with other people, recalled memories, and the entertainment provided by the animals. In situations that are depressing or institutional, the presence of the animals serves to brighten the atmosphere, increasing amusement, laughter, and play. These positive distractions may help to decrease people’s feelings of isolation or alienation.
|Physical Contact, Touch|
It is well established that touch is very important for the nourishment of our mind and spirit. Infants who are not touched do not develop healthy relationships with other people and often fail to thrive and grow physically. For some people, touch from another person is not acceptable, but the warm, furry touch of a dog or cat is. In hospitals, where most touch is painful or invasive, the touch of an animal is safe, non-threatening, and pleasant. There are a number of programs for people who have been physically or sexually abused in which staff and volunteers are not allowed to touch the clients. In cases like these, having an animal to hold, hug, and touch can make a world of difference to people who would otherwise have no positive, appropriate physical contact.
Many people are able to relax when animals are present. Tests have shown that the decrease in heart rate and blood pressure can be dramatic. Even watching fish swim in an aquarium can be very calming.
Some people feel spiritual fulfillment or a sense of oneness with life and nature when they are with their pets. This is hard to define or explain. Some well-known authors have described their relationships with animals and nature as part of their sustaining life energy and/or part of their communion and relationship with God.