by Lesley Meriwether
"Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man himself will not find peace."
-- ALBERT SCHWEITZER
SOME OF THE MOST POWERFUL HEALERS IN THIS world are animals; domestic or wild, they have a quiet, secret power. Look into the eyes of your pet and you will see an ancient and deep love.
Animals have evolved with us as our psychic partners. They can assist us through the complex maze of our lives, as they have since recorded time. While stroking or flea combing our pets we come into direct contact with the trusting love in their eyes, unashamed and unhooded. It is there for all to see and respond to. And many of us do.
Pets are found in 60 percent of American households, and 40 percent of all pet owners carry photos to prove it. Pet owners have long appreciated the nurturing quality of an animal's affection.
But what about the rest of us who don't own pets? Many people feel they have no need for pets, but some could use the company, love and devotion that animals provide.
Pet-assisted therapy programs are springing up all over the country. Trained animals are being used in geriatric hospitals and children's units to provide a sense of comfort and security to the frightened and lonely people inhabiting these places.
In his article "Heal," in Hippocrates magazine, Michael Mason discusses a survey of 5,741 Australians, pet owners and non-pet owners. The study showed that those who owned pets had cholesterol and triglyceride levels markedly lower than those who did not.
The author speculates that this may be because pets act as a buffer against everyday stresses. According to another study, done by UCLA, seniors with pets make far fewer visits to the doctor than those without.
According to other studies, pet owners report fewer minor health problem like flus, colds and general aches and pains. They tend to dwell on their problems less and to focus their attention on others. Several studies showed that blood pressure in humans is lower after petting a dog or cat.
If you know someone, child , adult or senior, who is lonely or withdrawn, consider asking if they'd like a pet. I frequently suggest this to retired people, especially men, who have difficulties adjusting to their new status. They often find that they are surprisingly lonely and that having an animal sidekick is very satisfying even if they initially scoffed at the idea.
All children can benefit from pets, but particularly those children with a chronic illness or a recent death in the family, or those simply having a difficult time with life. Pets can give unconditional love, something most of us, but especially children, can use.
Some experts feel that pets provide children with their first experiences in caring for others. This experience can teach them many lessons that are best learned early in life.
For all of us, pets offer an accelerated experience of life from birth to death, giving us opportunities to learn to better cope with the beginnings and endings of life.
Our North Coast animal shelters contain many wonderful healers (and a few heelers too) and for a small price you can deliver one of these marvelous creatures to a deserving human (with the recipient's agreement, of course).
Pets are our devoted companions; they give a lot and ask very little in return.
In many spiritual traditions animals are thought of in powerful terms. The American Indians, who were our predecessors in this land, revered the natural world and were able to live in harmony with it. Since we have been cut off from nature and unconscious of her bounty, we have moved rapidly in a negative downward spiral away from an understanding of our environment.
Even though our pets have been domesticated for centuries, we can see in their behavior and in their eyes that they are wild creatures. We can stay connected to Mother Nature through our pets, and through that connection make better decisions regarding our future and the future of the Earth.
Lesley Meriwether is a registered nurse and psychotherapist with the Arcata Family Medical Group.