I just finished another great book – “Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond” by Meg Daley Olmert.
Given that it is Valentine’s Day today, and my feathery sidekick and I are celebrating 13 (loud but) blissful years together, I thought the book would make for a perfect post.
The premise of “Made for Each Other” is simple: humans and animals have been bonded together for centuries – until now.
The last 100 years has dramatically changed our ability and need to be connected to our non-human helpmeets in practical ways (think farming, milking, construction).
As this bond slowly breaks down, it is changing us – and not for the better.
This is because our innate biological need to stay together can no longer be circumvented so easily. This need, built on a long, solid foundation of mutual, consensual interdependence, is now as innate to us as breathing, contends author Daley Olmert.
Perhaps this is why, on average, we spend less than 60 minutes per day with our pets, but drop more than $61 billion on pet toys, food, costumes, and treats annually. That is more than we spend annually on alcohol!
Of course, this just further reinforces Daley Olmert’s point – that animals give us something more beneficial, more vital, more powerful than even the intoxication of wine. It is something we need, something our evolving biology has come to crave and demand, and something we cannot produce in sufficiently satisfying quantities wholly on our own.
It is oxytocin.
Oxytocin is what a pregnant woman’s body produces to induce labor and lactation. Once born, oxytocin helps us clarify whose youngsters are whose. And oxytocin is what bonds mated pairs (human and non-human) together to care for young and make sure they survive.
Socially, oxytocin is the helper that tells us whether the being standing in front of us is someone we have met before (or not) – and whether that being is friendly or dangerous.
Oxytocin is also responsible – it is thought – for the domestication of wolves, horses, dogs, cats, and other animals into mutually productive partnerships.
In many ways, oxytocin is a more powerful “feel good” hormone even than serotonin – and we produce it effortlessly when in the company of those whom we love. Oxytocin production can be both triggered by and increased through our own natural powers of observation – working in conjunction with our mirror neurons (the cells that give us empathy with others) to develop and deepen our sense of closeness and connection.
I have spent many more Valentine’s Days as a single than part of a couple. But thanks to the non-human loved ones in my life, and the feel-good effects of the oxytocin we create while in each other’s company, I have never once felt alone or uncared for.
Today, I resolve to do my utmost to make sure that never changes.
Today’s Takeaway: What benefits does keeping company with a pet bring to you? Do you feel like your “quality time” with your pet and the amount of money you spend on your pet is in balance? What do you think your pet needs most from you in return? Today, on Valentine’s Day, what gift can you give both you and the pet(s) in your life that will be treasured and meaningful?