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Pets Help People Heal Mentally

Redfoot tortoise eats red leaf lettuce
My mind becomes quiet and content when I am hand-feeding my sweet redfoot tortoise, Malti, fresh organic produce straight from the earth!

Pets. Aren’t they wonderful? (Understatement of the century if you are a fellow animal lover, I know).

But as it turns out, not everyone is an animal lover. Some people need to be convinced. For the record, I understand this and here is why.

When I was very little, my mom and I went out walking in the neighborhood. All I remember is that Mom was delivering something to a neighbor. When we knocked, the neighbor’s tiny fluffy white dog came out before she did. I promptly did what (I think) all delighted kids do when they see a small fluffy white animal moving around by their feet – I reached down to pet the dog.

I didn’t make it. That tiny dog clamped her tiny jaws around my tiny wrist and that was that for me and dogs….for at least the next three decades.

It took several years of determined effort, including reading every book about dogs I could find and petting as many dogs as would let me, before I became a dog lover.

I am still working on cats, and to tell you the truth I am not making much progress. But that is a topic for a different blog post (and likely a different writer).

So not everyone loves animals and in many cases there are probably some very good reasons for this.

Interestingly, I have always loved birds and turtles and tortoises and frogs and toads and have never had a moment of fear or hesitation come up about this affinity even though I have been nipped and outright bitten and scratched and peed on and pooped on repeatedly by all of the above. So it seems there are some animals I just naturally gravitate to more than others.

Of course, I could say the same about some people. Some I love on sight. Some….not so much. And some, not at all.

Luckily, just as there are lots of different people in this world, there are lots of different animals. So the way I see it, there is probably an animal for each person.

Case in point: I once read a story in a nature book about a man who kept…wait for it….cockroaches.

He kept barrels and barrels full of them and all different kinds. He worked in a lab and this is where he kept the roaches. One day he took a day off. On that day, the power went out in the lab. The next day when he returned to work, all the roaches were dead. The guy who wrote the book (who was the man’s lab assistant at the time) said the man was sobbing – literally crying his eyes out – while hugging the barrels of dead roaches to his chest.

So….an animal for everyone. Clearly. Shudder.

On that note, it has become fairly easy to quantify how we feel about animals emotionally. We cry. We laugh. We reduce the dosage of our anti-anxiety meds.

And the positive impact animal companionship can have on us physically is well-documented. We live longer. We heal faster. We find that tumor when the cancer is still in stage 1.

But what about mentally? Do animals affect us on a purely mental level?

Cockatiel in hand
Nearly every morning we start our day with “Yoga with Pearl.” It is the closest this big city girl’s life can come to feeling a mind-body-nature connection without actually leaving town.

For that matter, what does the term “mentally” even mean?

For the purposes of healing and overall health, the mind and emotions are so intertwined in our modern lexicon that they are nearly viewed as interchangeable.

Except that I believe they are not. Mind is mind and emotion is emotion, at least when it comes to animals, at least for me personally.

Here is an example. I live in a really, really, really big city – Houston, Texas. Houston is enormous. Houston also happens to have the exact opposite people-to-nature ratio that my personal wellbeing prefers. So after some fairly uninterrupted time living inside this big city environment, I start to think in a way that is…..I can only describe it as mentally restless.

It is like my mind got locked inside one of those escape rooms that are so popular today. The only way out of the escape room is to find nature. But there is no nature anywhere inside that room or even anywhere near that room.

When it gets really bad, I get in my car and drive to the beach. The moment I cross the big arching bridge that connects mainland with island, I feel my shoulders drop. I take the kind of deep, automatic breath that is never possible in the big city (eau de smog, anyone?).

Galveston at sunset
The beauty of the ocean – every moment is new and my mind is gently steeped – and stilled – in witnessing its wonder.

My mind clears. After just a few minutes walking on the beach, my mind goes quiet. Like, totally quiet. My insides and my outsides match once more. I hear the surf and the seagulls outside, and I hear the surf and the seagulls inside. The mental impact lasts all evening and for at least a few days – sometimes for a week or more.

Like an extended-release medication with an effect that tapers off over time, I slowly become more mentally restless, more trapped, more cluttered again until it is time for another spontaneous beach trip. And so the cycle continues.

Is there a name for this mind-nature disconnection? As it turns out, there is…at least sort of.

The word is “psycho-terratic.” The founder is a self-defined “farmosopher” named Dr. Glenn Albrecht, now retired from the University of Sydney and dedicated to helping modern homo sapiens (that is, us) better comprehend how the decline of the planet’s wellbeing is affecting the decline of its people’s wellbeing.

At its simplest, Dr. Albrecht points to the connection between terra (the Earth) with psyche (the mind) and soma (the body) as an escalating source of dis-ease. The words he uses are psychoterratic (mind-earth health) and somaterratic (body-earth health). And from the little I’ve read thus far, it all gets much more complicated from here.

But still, it makes sense to me somehow. Because we don’t really have a word – or we didn’t until now – for the internal distress we experience in mind and body (and heart and spirit) as we watch our planet and so many of the species we share it with ailing and dying out.

I know that every time I read a story about a decline in the numbers of sea turtles or another tortoise smuggling seizure or the neglect of a companion animal or the increasing scarcity of the honey bees, it twists my gut and breaks apart neural connections in my brain that were formed before I could breathe on my own.

Both my first (mind) and second (gut) brain are irreparably harmed any time any other life form is harmed. I walk about on this planet of ours and feel jarred, distressed, and often like a terrible awful person as well, especially when I survey the unbelievable amount of plastic that has built up yet again in the recycling bin just outside my door.

It seems beyond impossible to ever even begin to heal the dysfunction my kind has created. I am so much to blame, whether by ignorance, laziness, inaction or acts of overt harm.

Box turtle stands on hand
Everything inside me – body, mind, heart, soul – aligns with our planet when Bruce shows me such an amazing, unbelievably really, level of trust.

And yet when my cockatiel, Pearl, chirps and I look up to see him staring at me with such total one-pointed devotion in his eyes, I feel mind-earth health – psychoterratic health.

When my redfoot tortoise, Malti, pads into the kitchen and heads straight for my feet, standing on top of them with total confidence this will produce the much-desired snacks, I feel body-earth health – somaterratic health.

When my rescued 3-toed box turtle, Bruce, climbs onto my outstretched hand and permits me to pat his oh-so-soft neck skin, something he has only just started to permit after four years of trust-building, I get what I can only assume is called psychosomaterratic health – total mind-body-earth healing.

When our family’s rambunctious standard wire-haired dachshund, Flash Gordon, catches a glimpse of me and literally goes wild with excitement, I feel just a tiny smidge of what our planet must feel every time one of us is kind to an animal or to the Earth herself.

Pets, animals, nature, oceans, mountains, plains – they heal our minds in the way they have always done and are designed to do. What will heal us when they are gone? I hope I never have to find out.

With great respect and love,

Shannon

Pets Help People Heal Mentally


Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering. http://www.loveandfeathersandshells.com http://www.shannoncutts.com


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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Pets Help People Heal Mentally. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2019/11/pets-help-people-heal-mentally/

 

Last updated: 16 Oct 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.