Pet Therapy - How Pets Can Help You Cope
About two weeks ago, my husband called to tell me he found an abandoned kitten in the parking lot where he works. Instinctively, I drove over to where he was to take charge of the kitten as he needed to go back to work. He handed me the kitten and told me, “Now, Amber, if the SPCA calls back, we need to give him up.”
I looked at my husband, tears in my eyes, and said, “You don’t hand me a baby kitten and tell me I have to give him up.”
“You really want to keep him?” He asked.
“Yes.” I said choking back more tears as the little creature clung to me for safety.
I have always had a deep love for cats. My husband has dubbed me the Cat Whisperer. It’s like I have a cat radar.
Whenever we walk through the neighborhood, I’m always the first to spot nearby cats. While they’re quite skittish with my husband around, I’m usually able to coax them over to me to give them a few scratches behind the ears.
Growing up, I lived in the country where feral cats were plentiful. I would come inside for dinner after a long day of cat wrangling. My mother would shriek in horror as I came in with cat scratches all over my arms.
“AMBER! YOU COULD GET CAT SCRATCH FEVER!” she would exclaim. I didn’t mind. I loved cats and nothing was going to keep me from taming them. Eventually, every feral cat I caught was tamed and loved being around humans.
My first cat as a pet right before my UC diagnosis
When I moved out and lived on my own, I got my first indoor cat. Mr. Darcy, a Ragdoll (yes, that’s a real breed, and yes, he is pedigreed!).
A year after acquiring Mr. Darcy, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Previous to diagnosis, I didn’t mind him wandering into the bathroom with me while I did my business.
After diagnosis, I had so much stress in the bathroom, I couldn’t handle him needing attention. I didn’t mind so much while I was lying in the fetal position on the couch, but in the bathroom, I was in so much pain, I didn’t want to deal with a needy animal.
Pets have a sixth sense about chronic illness
Mr. Darcy has been there for me during my darkest hours. I think many pet owners with IBD will tell you that their fur babies have a sixth sense about things. I remember the first night I got the feeling that Mr. Darcy knew I was ill.
I was tired, weak, and in a lot of pain. I was scared and confused. Lying on the couch, Mr. Darcy approached me, quietly. He then jumped up on the couch, stepped onto my belly, and began “kneading it.” I can’t say why, but at that very instant, I felt so much comfort and appreciation for my sweet baby. He was caring for me!
Interaction and support from animals during a UC flare-up
It has been scientifically proven that interaction with animals is extremely helpful. Pets provide support for physical health by lowering blood pressure and helping the body to release endorphins.
Pets also support mental health by providing comfort, lifting one’s spirits, lowering anxiety, and reducing the loneliness that comes with living with a chronic illness.
There are actually programs out there that register animals as Therapy Pets. Not to be mistaken for Service Animals, these pets are, in general, owned by your average person and brought into places like hospitals or nursing homes to provide comfort to patients. These patients often find comfort in therapy animals, especially being away from home away from their own pets.
I remember being in the hospital myself and really missing Mr. Darcy. I had my husband bring home my socks to Mr. Darcy so he could smell me. Silly? Maybe. But it helped me keep my sanity while I was hospitalized.
My cats will always be there when I'm not feeling well
Fast forward to today. I was able to talk my husband into keeping the abandoned kitten (who we named Bram, i.e. Bram Stoker, author of Dracula) in the parking lot. Although I’m doing very well with my current treatment for IBD, I know that my cats will be there in the future the next time I’m not feeling well.
I see it as a mutually beneficial relationship. I care for them, and they’ll care for me when I’m in need. I have many friends who feel the same way about their own pets. I would recommend pet therapy for anyone who is having a hard time with their illness. Your pets may not heal you, but they’re sure to help you get through the rough spots.
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