Pin It

Animals as Healers 

It was risky explaining to an editor a few months back why I wouldn't make the deadline for submitting an article. For weeks my house had served as hospice for a dying friend, and in the final two days I turned off the phone, shut down the computer, and sat or slept near my friend until he passed. Reasonable explanation - except that the friend was a cat. (Thank you, Dear Editor, for granting that extension without judgment.)

I've since discovered support groups, Web sites, and even 24-hour hotlines to help people through the loss of a pet - companion animals are that important to many of us. It hasn't always been so. Our millennia-long relationship with the furred, feathered, finned, and otherwise differently constructed has been wildly diverse. To us they have been divine beings or devils, beautiful or abhorrent, food or friend or both. Classic extremes are the revered cats, fish, birds, and beetles of ancient Egyptians, compared to the animals (and many people) debased and tortured during the Inquisition.

Animals have always been useful to have around, providing food, clothing, tools, fuel, muscle-power, transportation, and models for the design of machinery and manmade materials. Now they are also experimental subjects and living factories that produce medicines, replacement hormones, tissues, and organs. But animals have impacted the human spirit as well. Indigenous people, for example, attribute both worldly and otherworldly powers and wisdom to animals. Totem animals are allies that make the human whole, as does identifying the animal clan to which a person belongs. Many people outside of indigenous traditions also view a respectful relationship to the animal kingdom as enriching, even essential, to the human psyche.

MORE THAN FUR DEEP
Kindred Spirits, by veterinarian Allen Schoen, recounts dozens of studies and stories of animals that helped heal the body or spirit of children, the elderly, and people who are ill, depressed, or impaired. The book's subtitle summarizes: The remarkable bond between humans and animals can change the way we live. In one study of nursing home residents, 75 percent of men and 67 percent of women said their dogs were their only friends. Some people describe a pet as their motivation for recovering from an illness or injury.

A pet in the household, or even a temporary visit from an animal, has been documented to lower blood pressure and anxiety; reduce the need for doctor visits and medicines; enhance cognition, movement, and quality of life among the elderly; improve impairments after injury, aid in socialization and rehabilitation of at-risk youth and of psychiatric patients; assist children who have learning disorders or differences; increase likelihood of survival during the year following a heart attack; and open communication with people who are grieving, abandoned, or abused.

Susan and Ron Rozman of Esopus adopted their dog Mootsie, a black lab/hound mix, as a young pup. Around the same time, Susan was diagnosed with cancer. Mootsie was a huge aid for Susan as she endured a first course of chemotherapy, then a stronger, more difficult one. Ron recalls how Mootsie "made Susan laugh every day, as lousy as she was feeling, by just being himself."

"Mootsie was a happy-go-lucky dog who was really a goofball," Susan says. "He could be such a pain in the ass one minute, and then was a really compassionate healer the next minute. He wanted to go in and out of the house all the time, but when I was feeling bad, he would hang by me all day. When I'd just come back from chemo, he would come over and want to smooch and snuggle. For the first two nights after chemo he would sleep by me."

Susan's second course of chemo cleared any sign of cancer, but two days after that news, Mootsie was hit by a car and died. The family concurs that Mootsie seems to have come into their lives to help Susan through that period. Now there's a new puppy, Biggie Smalls. "Half basset hound and half something else, a short guy with a big attitude," says Ron. Hopefully Biggie will be able to follow in Mootsie's pawprints, because Susan has a recurrence of cancer and more chemo to deal with.

DOCTORS DOG, CAT, BIRD, & BUNNY
Hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric wards, schools, and other facilities for people in need of special care or training are opening their doors to animals. Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck has hosted animals at Thompson House (its on-site nursing home) for years, and has just begun to bring dogs into the hospital itself.

Speaking of...

  • Omega Institute to Offer Resilience Programs for Veterans
  • Omega Institute to Offer Resilience Programs for Veterans

    Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is offering scholarships for programs aimed at assisting veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and helping them reintegrate after the effects of war.
    • May 4, 2016
  • Virgo New Moon and Solar Eclipse: Movement First, Then Change
  • Virgo New Moon and Solar Eclipse: Movement First, Then Change

    How often have you tried to think your way into a new state of being or belief, or tried to think yourself into feeling healed? Thoughts are amazing tools for many things in life: planning, research, analysis. But often, when it comes to fully shifting our experience of ourselves, they are only part of the process—and sometimes not even the place to start.
    • Sep 10, 2015
  • The Dutchess County Fair
  • The Dutchess County Fair

    From Tuesday, August 19 through Sunday, August 24, the classic fair returns to Rhinebeck for another year of farm animals, concerts, carnival rides, local craft vendors, and some really great milkshakes.
    • Aug 17, 2014
  • More »
  • Lorrie Klosterman reports on how animals can help to heal.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Sister Healer: Sister Dang Nghiem

    Doctor-Turned-Nun Sister Dang Nghiem Offers Inspiration on the Practice of Joy and the Healing Magic of Mindful Breath.
    • Jul 1, 2015
  • It Takes a (Farm) Village

    Intentional Communities, Woven Into Bucolic Farmland, Are Giving People with Special Needs a Place To Grow and Thrive.
    • Jun 1, 2016

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
ReActor: Special Appearance by Alex Schweder + Ward Shelley @ Omi International Arts Center

ReActor: Special Appearance by Alex Schweder + Ward Shelley

Sat., Sept. 24, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sun., Sept. 25, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. — ReActor is the newest work in an experimental, performative series of "social...
Suffern Chamber Crafts & Drafts Street Fair @ Downtown Suffern, NY

Suffern Chamber Crafts & Drafts Street Fair

Sun., Sept. 25, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. — Sponsored by Good Samaritan Hospital of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network....

View all of today's events

Latest in General Wellness

  • From Tibet, With Love
  • From Tibet, With Love

    Traditional Tibetan Medicine Interlaces the Spiritual and the Medical for a Singularly Holistic Approach to Health
    • Sep 1, 2016
  • Conversation with an Ageless Goddess
  • Conversation with an Ageless Goddess

    Women's health diva Christiane Northrup, MD, turns everything you've heard about aging on its head—offering an alternative prescription for a vital new you.
    • Aug 1, 2016
  • It Takes a (Farm) Village
  • It Takes a (Farm) Village

    Intentional Communities, Woven Into Bucolic Farmland, Are Giving People with Special Needs a Place To Grow and Thrive.
    • Jun 1, 2016
  • More »

More by Lorrie Klosterman

  • Local Luminary: Barbara Valocore

    Barbara Valocore cocreated Lifebridge Foundation with her father, Paul Hancock, with the mission of promoting the interconnectedness of all life and one humanity.
    • Mar 1, 2012
  • Words of Wellness

    A Collection of Wise Gleanings
    • Mar 1, 2011
  • Psychotherapy Today

    Not Your Grandfather's Psychoanalysis
    • Feb 1, 2011
  • More »

Hudson Valley Tweets