Musings: Animal Stories

I’ve shared my living space with companion animals for almost all my life. When I was a kid, my family raised Seeing Eye puppies as a 4-H project.

The program uses volunteer families who agree to love, care for and provide basic socialization and obedience training for a German shepherd puppy until it is about 18 months old. At that time, the family can accept a new puppy if they choose, while their beloved family pet goes off to begin their very special training mission at the Seeing Eye Foundation in Morristown, NJ, to become a guide dog for the blind. Many of these animals will not only become someone’s best friend someday, but also their lifeline to independent living.

Occasionally a dog is rejected to complete this rigorous training for various reasons, and the family who raised her is asked if they’d like her back. Our fourth Seeing Eye puppy, Ilka, was returned to us due to a hip displacement condition which would not have held up well to the stress of working long days. She lived out the rest of her full and happy life as our family pet, while our other three dogs went on to complete their professional training. I remember that our family was invited back to the Foundation on one occasion to witness our former pet in action on the street with a trainer — a complete and astonishing change from the frolicking pup we gave up. This otherwise normal German shepherd dog — formerly dedicated to romping, playing and loving life as our family pet — was now clearly dedicated to her new life of alertness and service and leading the way.

The Seeing Eye dog is just one example of the many highly evolved, caring relationships animals and humans share. The family pet is perhaps the most common. Long lost pets have traveled for months and hundreds of miles to return home to their human companions. Horses are known to provide miraculous healing and therapeutic benefits for autistic and special needs children, as well as adults needing social rehabilitation. Dolphins, primates and humans have bonded closely in many research situations to be able to communicate enough with each other to make amazing advances in our understanding of the world and our history.

It is not hard to find evidence of a very special bond between animals and humans that rivals the depth of connection two people in love can share. Dedication, unconditional support, mutual caring and commitment to offering up the best of oneself to the highest good of the other are the hallmarks of these relationships. We call it love, whether we are referring to humans or animals, and it is the deepest emotional bond we can forge. Even the passing of a beloved animal companion can be as wrenching as the death of a parent, child or spouse. If we are capable of feeling so deeply for them, who’s to say they are not feeling the same for us? Their facial expressions and unwavering affections clearly tell us they do. Diane Dragoff, a contributor this issue, notes, “Even now, this dog looks at me with concerned, cataract-clouded, large, brown eyes, peering into my soul. Eyes that ask: Are you OK? Are you happy? Am I still doing a good job?”

In addition to their beauty and purpose as unique species, I believe animals share this planet with us as our teachers and healing companions. Science confirms that stroking a cat’s soft and silky fur lowers blood pressure. The invitation to nurture and love offered by a companion animal is irresistible: “Hold me…I’m all yours…You are special to me…Trust me, I won’t hurt you.” It has often been suggested that animals absorb negative, imbalanced energy, as well as take on the illnesses and symptoms of members of their household to lessen those effects on humans. They certainly are masters at offering diversion, entertainment or a neutral ground of conversation to diffuse tense, boring or unfamiliar situations.

Institutionalized children and adults who are cut off from everything and everyone, including themselves, often reconnect with life again through the healing touch of animals. The warmth of the animal on their laps, the exercise of formerly stiff limbs to pet a cat or dog, and the regaining of healing sensation and touch often bring hope, delight and even long lost memory back into the lives of these patients when everything else has failed. If you have ever watched pet therapy animals at work, you will witness incredibly patient, gentle, tolerate animals who endure all sorts of patting, petting, groping, handling and holding without complaint.

A genuine light appears in the faces of children and adults who were formerly unresponsive, when a cat, dog or rabbit is placed on their laps and they can hold and stroke a warm, soft body radiating the healing energy of love. Why do these animals willingly allow this intrusion into their lives if not out of service and love?

This love that we feel for special animals in our lives is the doorway for us to embrace all animals on the planet. We have been gifted with the opportunity to love certain animals as individuals to help us soften our hearts to what the animal kingdom has to teach us. We have much to learn from both wild and domestic animals about how to live in a natural and balanced way. Because animals don’t speak to us in words, we must listen and watch them patiently if we wish to learn their secrets.

One issue we must face that is no secret is the brutality against animals in the factory farming business. It is one thing to care well for an animal which you will eventually slaughter for food, or to hunt a wild animal which you have tracked. It is the nature of these animals to sacrifice their lives for our food, the same as they do for their own brother and sister species. But this does not give us the right to enslave, torture and mutilate them during their lifetime, to gather them up in huge industrial herds and remove them from their natural lifestyles. This is not living in a natural and balanced way as we can plainly see from the pain and suffering we are inflicting on them. (Please read “Meat, Land and Lifestyle” by Chuk Kittredge in this issue.) The lesson these animals are bringing before us through the sacrifice of their lives requires us to think about how much meat we eat, how much food we waste, and how we treat the living and non-living things around us. We must very honestly reconsider our relationship with the Cattle, Pig, Sheep and Fowl races and release them from their slavery before we can evolve as a species ourselves.

As we gradually move towards this change, we can continue to increase our awareness of and gratitude for every living species on Mother Earth and do what we can to protect and honor wildlife and wild spaces. We can also care for our companion animals with as much love and dedication as we would for any human dependent upon us. Have your pets safely spayed and neutered and consider their nutrition as important as your own by buying good quality food for them. Learn about animal healing and communication techniques and talk with your pets and backyard wildlife daily. Remember, we are animals too!

Carol Bedrosian is the publisher and editor of Spirit of Change, New England's largest holistic magazine