Richard G. Petty, MD

We Need Our Pets

In this week’s British Medical Journal there is a report on the effectivenesss of swimming with dolphins on alleviating mild to moderate depression.

This is just the latest, but perhaps best executed of reports of the beneficial effects of interacting with animals. Humans need touch and connection. We are the only higher mammal that does not routinely engage in mutual grooming. And we miss it.

There is more and more research evidence of something that every pet owner knows: that animals can experience emotion. They seem well able to experience happiness and pleasure. Though science hasn’t proven it, they can almost certainly also feel sadness and unhappiness. I have a horse whose original human friend passed away. I was told that he was not well, and my first question was, "Has anyone told him what happened?" This may seem an odd thing to say. But when I met the horse, he showed all the signs of clinical depression. And yes, I did talk to him, and explain what had happened to his human companion. He nuzzled me as he grieved. And today he is the happiest horse you could ever hope to meet.

The Chalice and the Blade is the title of an extraordinarily fine book by Riane Eisler, in which she shows that beliefs about society, nature and the world about us were very different just a few years ago, and utterly different a few thousand years ago. We have all been raised in educational and social systems that stress an unhealthy "dominator" model of society, in which one person dominates another, or we dominate and control nature. It should not be this way, and Eisler stresses a "partnership model" in which all relationships should be expressions of partnership, containing respect, harmony and love.

One of the most helpful and yet neglected things that we can do for ourselves and for others is to explore our relationships with other living things. Do you have any relationships with animals? Are they dominator or partnership? Do you talk about owning an animal or of sharing your life with one? Do you make time to be with animals? Do you notice any differences in the animals after they have spent time with you? Do you notice any difference in yourself?

We have just mentioned the new study and there here has been a lot of work on using horses in therapy, and there is good evidence that they can bring a wonderful new dimension to treatment. Some therapists have introduced visualization exercises based on horse riding to help people cope with anxiety, and have found that not only did it help with anxiety, it also deepened peoples’ sense of connection with themselves and with nature. And don’t neglect other creatures: how would you characterize your relationships with insects? Do you have a dominator relationship with them? Do you squish something you don’t like?

Think about it.

(As an aside to this story, I was musing about researchers based in the notoriously cold and wet English Midlands having the wisdom and perspicacity to do their research in Honduras. I’ll have to remember that the next time that I’m writing a grant proposal…)

Addendum:  MSNBC has written a story "Into the Wild: A Scientific Approach" about the dolphin study published in the BMJ.

Technorati Tags: More blogs about Animal therapy.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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