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Animals & Us

An article appeared in the March 1 New York Times by a psychoanalyst based in New York, Jeanne Safer. The article was titled `Feed Your Dog, Feed Your Soul.’ The article is based on one of the writer’s patient not responding to therapy for more than nine years; and then suddenly he announced to the psychoanalyst that surprised her as much as it surprised him. “Today I heard the dog eating,” the patient said. “I noticed it. I liked it.” This was the first time that Daniel could recall having ever been pleased, rather than threatened, by being aware of the presence of another. For a man who by his own account “rushed through” every social interaction, unable to savor it, this was remarkable.
And the patient’s dog, Jeff, was more forgiving of Daniel’s derelictions than the psychoanalyst. And as Daniel became a more reliable master, Jeff took notice, wagging his tail at Daniel’s approach. “The dog just jumped up and laid down by my feet,” he reported with unconcealed delight one session. “It’s a wonderful thing. I have an effect on others.”
This was the first time the psychoanalyst had heard joy in Daniel’s voice. Jeff’s expression of gratitude, responsiveness and appreciation made Daniel’s efforts feel worthwhile to him. “Feeding your dog is feeding your soul, feeding your humanity,” the psychoanalyst said.
The next session, Daniel reported another milestone. “Today,” he said, “the dog and I looked each other in the eye.” There were signs of real love developing between Daniel and Jeff. “I miss it when I don’t feed the dog,” Daniel said one day. “He’s so happy to see me. I’m becoming part of his life. I pat his belly and stroke his head.”
I am surprised that the psychoanalyst, Ms Jeanne Safer, took such a long time to discover that animals bring us happiness. It is seldom, if ever, that people are nice to us in this materialistic world, unless they have an axe to grind. This is of course not to say that there are no Mother Teresas in this world but they are few. As opposed to such materialistic values, animals love us selflessly.
A French novelist, Anatole France, once said that “until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” One can realize this as whenever you meet a pet owner, you get to see them getting perked up when you bring up the subject of their pets. They will smile, get excited and probably tell you at least one funny story about their pets. Some can in fact talk about their pets for hours, if not the whole day.
The question is whether animals bring us happiness. I think they do. And the reason is simply because you notice that all children love animals and get excited when they see one and most like to even touch them. And what to talk of children, most of the adults also get fascinated by them.
It is for this reason that advocates of alternative medicine support taking of animals to hospitals and other centers to work their magic on people who are ill. A Japanese study showed that pet owners have fewer doctor visits and an Australian study showed pet owners have lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Even simply watching fish in a fish tank instead of a bare wall significantly reduces stress levels.
It is a known fact that petting animals help relieve stress. This can be particularly helpful if one is alone and nobody else to talk to or touch.
If left to me, I would have animals kept in all schools and wherever children are and even get them to visit hospitals if and when they do not threaten patients’ health and do not bring in infections.
The next question then is as to why animals make us happy. Some explain it on the simple ground that it is because they do not criticize, condemn, or complain, and remain loyal, non- judgmental, and full of love and caring and provide steady unconditional affection. If it is a pet, then they provide us with breaks in our daily routine by their little antics and affection. And of course they remain our most loyal companions till the end.
And lastly animals as our pets make us responsible. They improve our feeling of self-worth as they give us a sense of purpose in life as we feel that we are needed by somebody. This is exactly what happened in the case of the psychoanalyst’s patient, Daniel.
It is a known fact that people are happier when they are helping others. In other words, you would be happier if you help any animal but imagine the extent of your happiness if you help a stray animal who has no place to go and is shivering in the cold or sitting helplessly in a corner in rain. It is likely to give you far more happiness than adopting a pedigreed breed which you may show-off to others but that is about all.

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