Saturday, September 21, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, Visit the SPCA or Hug Your Pet

Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation

Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.
                             — George Elliot

     Talking to the animals and petting them has been proven to be therapeutic under normal circumstances, but during times of stress, pets are an invaluable asset in the recovery process. They offer unconditional love — and more. As you lean toward them, they move toward you, some more hesitant than others due to their experience with humans. Yet, they wag their tails as you tell them your tale of woe; they lick your hand as you pet them or scratch their fur, making eye contact, seeking solace in each other’s presence. Those who already have a pet know this. Those who do not have a pet can still experience this feeling…as I did: just take a trip to your local animal shelter.

     The thought to visit the local SPCA was not unusual for me. I have donated old towels, sheets, and newspapers on a regular basis in the past — always taking time to walk among the dogs in their cages and say hello. Although there were also many cats awaiting adoption in their separate section for those preferring these fluffy pets, I have always been drawn to dogs.

     On one of these visits to drop off a bag of newspapers, I met Daisy, a lonely Shih Tzu sitting in her dark and secluded cage in the back area of the building. The only source of comfort for her was the small, old, tattered rag upon which she sat.

I talked to her: How are you doing there? Are you as lonely and scared as I am?”

Of course, I did not expect an answer. But it was good to give voice to my thoughts of grief, loss, and sadness that needed to have someone listen to them in silence, without telling me how I should feel and what I should do.

     Listening skills are often undervalued, but are powerful support elements to comfort those grieving. Daisy gave me her undivided attention as I came closer. Although wary at first, she came to the front of the cage so I could pet her. I peered into her eyes and noticed that the eyes looking back at me resembled the same sad, lonely eyes I saw reflected in my mirror every day. I felt a connection between us. I wondered if she felt what I felt, as I started to relax a bit. I talked to many of the dogs that day. In fact, that day I talked to all the dogs, large and small.

     I felt good when I left. I hope Daisy felt some comfort from our visit, too. So, why didn’t I take Daisy home with me? I would have liked to — it was not the right time.

A pet deserves much more than being just a Band-Aid for the emotional distress of my grief and loss. I already had enough responsibility, distractions, and emotional chaos, with all my energy focused on just getting through each day. If you are thinking of adoption, take a moment to evaluate your needs and choose a pet that connects with you and your needs. Some pet shelters offer the opportunity to take a dog you are interested in for a walk in a fenced-in area. When thinking of adoption, be sure this is right for you. You are making a long-term commitment when you choose to have a pet.

     Another time, I visited my friend, Anne, at her home. She had both a cat and dog. I took just one step into her home, and her pets immediately sought me out. They kept close by my side, in my lap, or nuzzling me the entire visit. I was a magnet of emotional negativity drawing the positivity of pet energy toward me — whoosh!

     Yes, animals seem to sense what I now call “disturbances in the force,” human emotions, whether happy, sad, lonely, angry and so on. Dogs look you in the eye, wag their tails, and quiver with excitement when they see you. They offer themselves to you unconditionally. You cannot escape their undivided attention as their love and affection gushes forth.

My response to them was similar — spontaneous and caring. I smiled back at them, even though I felt I had no reason to smile. I talked to them, even though my mind was still telling me to keep silent so I would not scream or hurt others with my words. And I shared my loving caresses…petting and hugging them, even when I thought I had no more love to give. Pet therapy in action!

     Pet therapy has always existed, rarely studied or validated. Lately, much research has been done on the therapeutic aspects of pets, validating benefits to one’s health and wellness, now accepted by mainstream health and wellness practitioners.

Today, pets in a variety of settings bring joy and caring to those in need. Therapy dogs visit nursing homes and other such facilities to interact with residents and provide the opportunity for emotional connection and healing touch. You can see the delight and joy in the residents’ eyes, watch their hands reaching out to touch and pet the dog, notice the soft words spoken. A pet can provide companionship for elders living alone. Anyone who has a pet can provide testimony as to how they are comforted by their pet’s presence: these companion animals keep their owners company, give them a reason to live, and can even warn them of intruders.

     No wonder you feel so much better with a pet of your own or a pet shared by a friend or family member. I still visit the SPCA on occasion to talk to the dogs.

A neighbor, Ben, shares his dog with me by inviting me to his home. He prepares the dog for my visit by saying: Cheryl’s coming.

Ben says his dog dances around the room in anticipation and then waits by the door or front window anticipating my visit. I do love this attention. When I come in the door, she is all aquiver on the top step, watching me closely. She dances around me when I get to the top of the stairs — while looking directly at my face and joyfully wagging her tail. I feel so welcome and appreciated, my spirit renewed. I return this joyful energy, talking to her, petting her, and letting her perch on my lap…such special moments. I wish for you to experience them yourselves.


·       I feel the comfort of pets as I hug them, look into their eyes, and see their excited expressions when I am near.
·       I value the special qualities of pets’ unconditional love.
·       I am grateful for those who share their pets with me.


With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise. 

Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD

Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a copy of her book, published by Outskirts Press, is through this Amazon link: 

1 comment: