My new puppy, Teddy Bear
The people who study the human/companion animal bond have listed many ways in which our furry friends have enhanced our lives: consider the many ways in which pets and other domesticated animals have been our companions and helpers across the millennia.
Who doesn’t feel comfortable around a dog? They lower our blood pressure, give us additional opportunities to exercise, love us unconditionally, and greet us each and every time as if we’ve been gone a year, during every moment of which they’ve eagerly anticipated (and sensed) our return.
And working dogs have flushed out sustenance from the bushes for us humans for millennia, retrieved what has fallen into the water or beyond our reach, searched for our lost loved ones, gone after and caught the live food that we were too slow to catch on foot, kept us warm during freezing cold nights, herded and/or guided our livestock, led us home when we got lost, and lots more. And they’ve done it all with smiling, tail-wagging enthusiasm.
Cat lovers extol the virtues of their pets by reminding us that, in ancient Egypt, cats were considered gods. And cats, of course, have reminded us ever since that they have never forgotten this. While dog owners have masters, cat owners have staff!
Cats have psychic abilities, and many are when it comes to the people who share their lives. Cats sit nearby their human friends when they are in physical or emotional distress. You have probably heard of cats in nursing homes that sense when people are approaching the end of their lives. These cats will stay near an individual for days just before they transition, helping them across the divide.
Cat owners who interact with their cats during playtime create more gregarious, people-centered felines. Raised like a dog — that is, interacted with in the same way puppies are — cats become every bit as loving and interactive as dogs.
For millennia, cats have helped keep granaries, homes, and cupboards rodent-free. And at least a couple of the African wild cats — the large dog-sized cheetah and bobcat-sized serval — have been raised and tamed by indigenous tribes to act as hounds to help bring down the game that they needed to survive before guns and Land Rovers came into being.
Another thing about cats, wild and tame, is that they seem to know how to turn on and off their internal, red alert signals almost immediately. The part of their brain — like ours, called the amygdala — that warns them of potential imminent danger can put them into action, and take them right out of it, in what appears to be milliseconds. Very soon after a threat passes, a cat will often flop over on its side to take a leisurely sunbath, as if it has just been on a carefree stroll across the lawn instead of having faced a near attack from a hungry cougar. Most humans hold onto their fear much longer. We process our threats after the fact more slowly. Consider becoming more cat-like when your amygdala goes off for non-urgent and post-urgent situations, so your body can return to its baseline faster.
Bird lovers are well aware of falconry and homing pigeons, the working class among birds. What bird owners love most about their pets are their individual personalities, their intelligence (the term “bird brain” is a misnomer), their antics, their lovely colors and, in some cases, their pleasing birdsong. Well-handled birds love being handled.
Amphibian, reptile, and fish afficionados find their pets fascinating, too. Very unlike us in so many ways, just watching these creatures reminds us of Mother Earth’s natural environment, on land and in the water, and of the great variety of creatures who depend on it — and us — for their very survival.
And although we don’t consider most livestock pet material, horses, burros, donkeys, cattle, oxen, camels, and even elephants have been employed by humans to help us survive in many ways, from pulling our wagons and carts, to carrying us along trade routes. And a great many of the people who employed them in these ways came to regard them as “pets,” (that is, as beings we could “pet” and otherwise handle without worrying too much about losing our appendages or our lives).
Marine mammals, too, have been tamed and trained to serve humankind by searching out and disarming underwater munitions. The late actor Glenn Ford worked with underwater mine-detection dolphins in WW II and gained such a respect for their intelligence, abilities, and “humanity” that he said anyone who killed a dolphin should be charged with manslaughter.
We are literally surrounded with intelligence and masteries that we cannot equal, despite how smart and capable we are. Our pets help remind us of this even as they help and heal us in so many ways.
There is a wonderful quote from naturalist Henry Beston:
We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, the human in civilization surveys the creatures through the glass of knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err and err greatly. For the animal shall not be measured by us. In a world older and more complete than ours they move, finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with us in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.
The French writer Anatole France once said, “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” I believe this is 100% true, and it speaks to the unique bond that we have with our pets.
But what is it about animals — and especially our pets — that captures our affections so?
For starters, we become calmer and more singularly focused while petting our fur-bearing friends, even when our focus isn’t necessarily on them. We become one-track minded. It’s harder to remain a multi-tasker while stroking a companion animal. We can so easily fall into meditation or contemplation because, consciously or unconsciously, we simply slow ourselves down. And for people who live alone and without relatives nearby to visit, being able to give and receive love from another warm-blooded creature is a life-enhancer and life-extender. Pets give us a reason to get out of bed every morning and to feel the need and the desire to live longer.
Secondly, pets ask so little of us, and they never criticize us. They don’t care if we’re a prince or a pauper; they view us as worthy of their love and attention no matter how often or how perilously our fortunes may change.
And just watching animals fascinates us. We wonder what they’re thinking, what they’re hearing that we can’t hear, what they’re smelling that we can’t smell. We’re fascinated by their extraordinarily keen senses, especially the nearly 360-degree vision of the horse and cats’ night vision.
We’re enchanted by our pets’ loyalty to us. Dogs have pined away at their masters’ gravesites for weeks, months, or years after they’ve passed. Cats, which could pull up stakes and strike out on their own without much trouble, rarely do. In fact, when animal behaviorist Roger Caras was asked which of the animals was the last to be domesticated, he smiled before responding, “I think one of these centuries hence, it will be the cat.” He said this because he believed that cats agree to live with us, they are not forced to by circumstances. Most cats have retained the ability to fend for themselves as necessary, but they’re keen opportunists, so when they find a willing human, they have little hesitation about giving up their danger-fraught freedom to settle on the couch. Many cats will give up eagle- owl- and coyote-dodging in a heartbeat at the chance to earn entrance to someone’s cozy kitchen and welcoming heart.
I just got a puppy a week ago; her name is Teddy Bear and she’s just 9 weeks old. I have a fun story to tell you about her: when my husband Eric, was a little boy in France, he was given a book as a Christmas gift. The book was about a little white dog that was on a pirate ship that shipwrecked; the little dog swam to the nearest island, which was Madagascar, off the coast of southern Africa. The royal family on the island were quite taken with the little white dogs that swam from the pirate ship and made them their companions; only royalty were allowed to have them. As a child, Eric dreamed of having the little white dog he read about in the book, but he never mentioned this dream or the book to me, pushing it aside once he became an adult.
Flash forward to a month ago, when one of my students showed me a photo of a little white dog she had just gotten; she gave me the name, I googled it, and lo and behold, although somewhat rare, there was a litter just ready to be born near me! I didn’t realize it was the dog of my husband’s dreams until I picked her up from the breeder and brought her home. The moment he saw her, he recognized her, the little dog of his dreams, and now he has a Coton de Tulear puppy all his own! It’s pet week all week at the Deborah King Center – drop me a photo of your pet on my Facebook page and tell me all about them; join the pet celebration!
If you have a loved animal in your life and would love to connect and communicate with it on a deeper, more spiritual level – if you want a healing relationship where you each heal each other – consider joining our bestselling Communicating with Pets and Animals course by clicking here >>