HAVING A PET IN YOUR LIFE CAN SHAPE YOU IN UNEXPECTED WAYS
Since around the age of five, I have never known a time when my family has not had a pet. It started off with ‘love birds’. Soon after we got rabbits. Finally, by parents decided to take up the big commitment. We got a dog.
Now, fifteen years later, I have had a range of pets- dogs, cats, rabbits, sparrows, pigeons, etc. Some of them we brought home voluntarily, some of them found their home with us themselves. Having had pets all my life, I think I am in a place where I can conclusively say that growing up with pets has definitely been an important factor in moulding me into the person I am today. Further, research shows that having pets can have a great influence on one’s development, especially in the case of children. Here’s how.
Growing up, I was shy. I didn’t have a large circle of friends, and even with the friends I had, I rarely opened up to them. While another person in a similar circumstance may write their feelings in their journal, talk to their family, or let their thoughts and feelings pent up, I would simply go and sit with my dog.
Research tells us that just being around dogs or cats, or petting them, helps reduce blood pressure, and as a result, reduces anxiety. Having a pet around can allay feelings of loneliness as well.
Anyone who has had a pet has felt that sometimes, your pet seems to sense your mood. Often, that feeling of being understood- even just by an animal- is a relief in itself.
When you care for a creature, feed it, clean up after it, and share space with it, you inevitably form a bond with it. Pet owners tend to have strong bonds with their pets. Most care for their pets as much as they would care for their family and friends.
Children learn to easily develop a relationship with them. It is found that they are able to translate these skills into developing human relationships as well. When around pets, you learn simple lessons such as empathy, personal boundaries, adjustment, etc. When my dog is in pain, I feel her agony myself. When I go to pet her and she just wants to sleep, I recognise her need for distance and don’t bother her. When she looks at me with her big beady eyes as I eat my favourite treat, I give in and share it with her.
These micro-lessons that pets teach us every day may be what help us develop healthy relationships with other people.
Pets need a proper routine, not unlike people. They need to be fed, walked, tended to, etc. at specific times in the day. When children are given the responsibility to look after their pets, they settle into the routine and learn to be more disciplined and responsible.
Caring for pets even has its benefits for adults. Having some structure in your day gives you a sense of control, so even when other things in your life are going wrong, you know you will find stability with your pets.
In the case of a depressed person who may be feeling unmotivated and wanting to stay abed all day, the only thing that might pull them out of bed is the awareness that they must feed their pet and take them for a walk. In a way, their pet becomes their motivator to get through the day.
With some pets, such as dogs and cats, you get a surprising amount of exercise. It occurs not only when you need to take your pet for a walk but also when you clean after them, run after them, play with them, and so on. My dog is old so she doesn’t run out of the house like she used to, but she still manages to have me chase her around when I try to apply her medications.
Animals are found to have such a great impact on people that, today, they are being used in therapy as well. This form of therapy is called Animal Assisted Therapy, and it has become increasingly widespread. With the help of therapy animals, people are not only found to open up and be more accepting of receiving therapy, but they also show great improvements in their therapeutic journey.
It doesn’t matter at what age one has a pet. Old or young, I cannot imagine a pet not teaching you life lessons and helping you grow as a person. My old girl- a thirteen year old German Shepard- has been a part of half my life.
My pet has taught me lessons no person could ever have taught me. I’ve been there for her through her illnesses, and she’s been there for me through my hard times. I’ve taken care of her, and she’s taken care of me. Her whole life may have passed in the time I grew from a child into an adult, but she has taught me things I will carry with me all my life. I couldn’t be more grateful.