Pet Therapy

Kitty or Doggy for Pet TherapyWitches have black cats. Dogs are “man’s best friend.” Hamsters and gerbils are cute as they can be, and some people even like snakes.

I picked Frankie the cat up from the shelter last week and carried her to her new home. She immediately ran for cover under the bed and wouldn’t come out for 24 hours. When she began tentatively venturing out she would run back whenever she got spooked, often just because someone was walking by, leading to the conclusion she may have been previously abused. A couple of times now she has let me stroke her and scratch her head and then I get my reward: the magic motor of her purring starts and doesn’t stop, that is, until she runs back under the bed again. Thank god she came knowing how to use the cat box.

I just found out on the Internet that back in the Middle Ages during the holocaust of women and gays they designated “witches,” they also perpetrated a huge massacre of cats. The Church was afraid of these “familiars” of the so-called witches because it was believed that cats had psychic powers and could help perform spells. There was even a dog that was tried and hanged as a witch in the Salem witch trials. When you look deeply into Frankie’s mysterious blue eyes, you can almost believe they were right – she knows something we don’t.

Pets seem to have been put into our lives for one purpose and one purpose only: to love and be loved. There’s plenty of well-documented research that being around animals reduces people’s stress levels, lowers blood pressure and even helps us live longer. Animal assisted therapy has been used with at-risk teenagers, folks in nursing homes, AIDS patients, and heart attack victims. I got a call recently from a prospective patient who wanted to know if I had a “therapy dog,” which was the first time I’d heard the term (and no, I don’t, although I’m thinking about training Frankie). On a brochure for an expensive recovery center I got in the mail they list “equine therapy” as a treatment modality which really means, it makes people feel better to ride a horse.

I guess the gist of this is that lonely people everywhere could benefit from owning a pet. There’s something about that unconditional love that’s harder to get from flawed human beings. Also, here in LA, it’s a way that people shop for lovers – going to the dog park to meet other dog owners. It’s easy to talk to someone with a dog, right? No ulterior motive other than just being friendly. Guess we’ll need to get them to set up cat and gerbil parks for everyone else.

© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth

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Catherine Auman is a Los Angeles psychotherapist specializing in transpersonal psychology, also known as spiritual psychology.

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