Think Outside The Crate

Cuddling

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When I was growing up there was always a pet in my home. My mom‘s dog, Junior, from her pre-marriage days, was of unknown ancestry (but we always guessed chow and something with really long fur). He looked like a tiny orange lion with a black tongue.

Junior was an ever-present part of the landscape of my childhood. My baby portraits always included Junior. I used to pretend he was a lion and would pry open his jaws and stick my head in his mouth; when he had had enough, he would crawl under the couch.

Junior was an integral part of several families, passed among different members of our clan over the course of his 18-year life, and he always brought joy with him. He understood the word “bath” in eight languages and managed to hide effectively whenever it was mentioned.

There is also the story that Junior saved me from being kidnapped by barking frantically when my mother left me in the baby carriage to quickly go into a store. She looked up to see someone running away with the carriage, with me in it. I’m not sure whether they wanted the carriage or me (it was a really nice carriage), but Junior’s barking saved my life — at least that’s the story.

Pets Help Us In So Many Ways…

Animals are a reason to get out of bed, even on the worst mornings. I know from experience that somebody jumping on my bladder, then walking up to death-stare into my eyes repeatedly is bound to get me out of bed to feed them and change their litter. They begin and end my day. They make me laugh, annoy me, act goofy, knock things over and steal small items (my pearl earring), and so on. Pets provide a structure to the day because they are dependent upon us. Even if I’m away I often find myself waking up thinking, Oh I’ve got to get up and feed the cats.

Pets increase your physical activity and contact with nature. Having a dog to walk requires going out, even in subzero weather, and making sure that your dog’s needs are taken care of. Even if you wouldn’t normally go out, knowing that your dog needs to get out will get you out, too. Taking your dog to the beach or a park and walking or running with them feels nothing like forced exercise — it’s pleasurable.

Pets are amazing companions. You can complain to them about anything and they will pretty much sit and listen. They will often stay in the same room with you just to be social. Having a dog or a cat sit on your lap and look at you with blissful eyes is a wonderful experience. Pets give back so much more emotionally than any effort it takes to care for them.

Pets reduce anxiety and stress. There have been many studies about this. My favorite one found that the sound of purring lowers blood pressure. Petting an animal provides both parties with a rewarding experience. Everybody feels loved.

Pets can help you meet new people. If you have a friendly dog, people are going to stop and say, “Hello,” and pat the dog’s head. My friend who walks her cat gets into some great conversations. There are lots of social groups that evolve around animals, such as dog training and dog play groups. These activities keep us grounded and focused, and can give our day purpose and a sense of accomplishment.

“But I Don’t Have Room For A Dog…”

Here’s what I’d say: “Think outside the crate.” Besides dogs and cats, there are lots of other animals that are fun to have. When my child was younger, we had Kiwi Herman, a guinea pig. I never thought I could love a guinea pig, but whenever the refrigerator door opened, she sang and chirped; it was really a cheerful experience! Plus, her maintenance was extremely low effort.

I even had a pet rat. That’s a long story, but rats are fantastic pets for some people. They are quite smart, they love peanut butter, and they can be good companions that take up very little space. My rat’s exercise circuit was completely contained in the bathroom. That was in great part due to the fact that I had two cats who thought he’d make a delicious snack.

I’m personally not a big fan of fish, but some people really enjoy them. I’ve even met some snakes that I thought were pretty cool, and I have a friend who has chickens for pets.

Think about the space you have, even in a tiny apartment; you can have an animal like a guinea pig or a pet rat.

If you absolutely cannot have an animal you can volunteer at a pet shelter, or foster animals. Even visiting petting farms or animal sanctuaries can be rewarding and comforting.

I think one of the most amazing things about pets is that they create a space for the giving and receiving of unconditional love. Isn’t that the best gift of all?

Wendy Marks is a Medical Intuitive and Rehabilitation Counselor with thirty years of practice in traditional and complementary health therapies. Sign up here for Wendy’s email blog. 

Watch below — 3 minutes of pure animal love in “The Sound of Silence”