My Furry Therapists

The Therapists Will See You Now

Most folks know the story on pets and their effect on health, how animals brought into nursing homes can reach people with dementia and ease loneliness, how just petting a dog can lower blood pressure for both the human and the dog.  Psychiatrist Aaron Katcher said, “[Humans] evolved solving problems about animals; animals have the power to entrain our attention. And when we are around animals, we become more joyous, communicative, expressive, and calm.”

Research continues on all the amazing benefits animals bring to our lives.  I’m always tickled by research that tries to confirm what I already know to be true.  In this case, there’s nothing new research can tell me—animals heal.

Author Bruce Goldstein, also a sufferer of bipolar disorder, explains it best in his book, Puppy Chow is Better than Prozac.  In it he talks about how his black lab soothed him and brought laughter into his life when it was darkest.

“I’m not saying that a dog should replace medicine, but it can be a vital component in stabilizing a manic-depressive’s life,” Goldstein said. “Pills do not get you up in the morning to start your day. They don’t give you a reason to live. Loving a dog does.”

In my case, it’s loving cats.  When I moved in with my friends Tom and Cheryl, Tom’s allergies dictated that Henry and Emmett take up residence in the basement.  This also kept a door between the cats and the dogs, which seemed to create a workable détente. It was a great set-up.  Cheryl’s craft studio was down there, so humans were always coming and going.  And even though Tom was allergic to them, he couldn’t stay away from my boys.  Fur attracts human hands.  That’s all there is to it.

But I was too sick to take care of myself, let alone my cats.  I forgot about them for long spells, then would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic.  I’d run down to the basement to find empty food and water bowls, with the boys swirling around my ankles in their “Feed me” dance.  The guilt and the shame seemed too much to bear.  I was afraid I’d neglect them to death, and that terrified me.

I started leaving sticky notes to myself so I’d be sure to change the litter boxes every week.  Even that small responsibility felt crushing at times.  I didn’t deserve them, I thought, and I was too ashamed to spend time with them.  I avoided going downstairs and stopped making greeting cards and art.  All the supplies were in the basement.  I couldn’t bear to be down there.

But, Henry and Emmett are patient creatures.  They waited.  And there came a time when I started coming back to them.  Henry does not condone public displays of affection.  He prefers a companionable distance.  But, when I started to come downstairs just to spend time with them again, he sat right on my lap.  Emmett, always nervous and squirrelly, jumped from lap to shoulder to floor to chair, never quite sure where to light.

Last spring, when we moved into our own apartment, we finished the process of knitting our family back together.  Henry resumed his former position as bed-buddy, tucking into my armpit at night, much more comfortable with affection under the cloak of darkness.  Emmett found new and magical ways to be squirrelly.  Currently, he marches across the back of my chair when I watch TV and rubs his butt on my head.  We have Play Time with what looks like a fishing pole attached to tantalizing feathers on the end.  We have Treat Time.  We have Running Water in the Bathroom Sink Time.  We have long conversations and quiet moments with hands in fur.

We’re back, and the food bowl is never empty.

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