“So, I'm thinking about getting a puppy…” my friend leans over and whispers in my ear as we drive down the road. I squeal with excitement and then quickly attempt to muffle my explosion as I glance at her serious face. She proceeds to take out a piece of neatly-folded paper from her purse, revealing an extensive pros and cons list with the title “Puppy: Yes or No?” at the top. Not at all surprised by this particular friend's pragmatic way of approaching such a decision, I try my best to be patient as she reads down her column of cons.
A cat fanatic (and true lover of all animal pals), I instinctively want to skip this talk of financial costs and potty training to get to the good stuff: furry cuddles, playing fetch in the park, and of course an irresistible, soft face.
However, as she shares, I snap back to reality as memories of my own pet-owning adventures come to mind. Be it cat, dog, or another pet, those first few days of navigating home life with a brand new animal friend can be a touch overwhelming. A few hours in and there is always that moment of realization where you think, “Wow, I am now responsible for this thing…”
Each pet we welcome into our lives will look to us for heavy doses of time, attention, and love. Yet, after having many conversations like the one with my friend in the car that day, I have come to some conclusions about why the difficult parts (or so-called “cons”) of pet-owning are actually pros in disguise. I have found that the responsibility (and not just the obviously fun aspects) of caring for pets, makes us better human beings. The following are three major reasons…
Why caring for a pet makes you healthier and happier.
1. Slowing Down
“Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Caring for a pet forces us to slow down. My cats have a habit of finding my lap to sit in when I'm busy on my computer. They could care less about deadlines, emails, and a full calendar. Similarly, a puppy could care less about that “oh so important” thing you're doing on your phone. He just wants to play.
Animals exist in an altogether different world of presence. Presence, or being present simply means existing in the moment. This concept that comes so easily to animals can feel foreign to us Type A- doers, who are often entangled in thoughts about the future, anticipating what the next day, week, or month will bring.
Whether it's escaping outside for a walk with your dog or giving your cat some much deserved head scratches, creating time to attend to your pet can provide stress-relief and benefit your emotional health, as proven by research at the Waltham Center Pet Nutrition (2002). It turns out that caring for our pets in these little ways can help relieve anxiety and depression by grounding us to reality. While we cannot always control the many anxiety-lending parts of work, relationships, and other nebulous areas of life, taking care of our pets lies very much in our control. By savoring the little moments with them, we are allowed a chance to give our minds and hearts some needed rest.
2. Acceptance as Key
“When will you have a little pity for every soft thing that walks through this world, yourself included?” ~ Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures
No two dogs, cats, bunnies, or birds are ever the exact same. Just like people, each have their unique personality. Pet-owning can be a bumpy ride in the beginning as animal and owner get acquainted with one another. From introverted, to extroverted, moody, and bouncy, I've experienced a full range of different personalities in the cats and dogs I've owned. While disciplining and curbing bad habits is a part of growing together, accepting your pet's innate personality is also essential towards caring for your furry companion.
Accepting our pets is often made easier with experiencing how freely they accept us. They are not bothered by bad hair days, smelly breath, or a rough quarter at the office. They tend to accept us as is. After a long day when life is teeming with naysayers, rejection, and uncertainty, I discover reliable warmth and comfort in the eyes of my dog who is waiting to greet me at the door. It is through those eyes of kindness that I am able to grow in self-compassion, offering myself the same deeply needed understanding.
3. Giving and Receiving Love
Pet owners truly wear many hats. To care for your pet entails being pseudo- nurse, chef, outdoor explorer, teacher, and playmate at any given time. There is disciplining, training, and limit-setting with fresh-faced puppies and kittens while our older, aging companions require more regular vet visits and careful dietary changes. Good pet owners give a lot of themselves. They give time and attention, yes, but also heart and soul. We include them in holiday cards and update friends and families on their newest funny antic.
Perhaps the greatest way we benefit from caring for our pets is through the way we learn to open ourselves up to giving and receiving love. Over time, we let our hearts get attached. I have experienced the most rigid of personalities soften through bonding with a cat. I've also witnessed defensive, timid dogs with histories of being abused grow in trust with the help of a patient, loving new owner. The relationships we develop with our pets challenge us to grow by expanding our abilities to care and to love. I, for one, believe we are much better for them.
Oh, and you’ll be happy to hear that my friend did indeed adopt that new puppy!
What other ways do pets have a positive impact on our lives? Let us know in the comments below.
Emily Parker grew up with dogs, but currently has 2 loving cats, Gus and Louis. She spends some of her free time writing science and experience based articles that help cat parents love their kitties better, at her site Catological.com.
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