Article by adjunct faculty, Dalma Heyn, Pet-Loss Grief Specialist, Psychotherapist
I’m fascinated by a study, reported not long ago in The New York Times, in which 40 percent of women respondents felt their pets offer more emotional support than their spouses do. When I relay this to women pet-parents, they laugh, and nod their understanding.
So, what is it that feels like “more emotional support” than a spouse gives? In my random and admittedly small study (like, five such friends who agreed with the study’s findings), here is one interesting response:
“I often talk to my cat about what I’m feeling. He looks at me intently—which right there is already more than I usually can elicit from my family! – with those wide green eyes, and doesn’t signal to me that he’d like to talk me out of it. I never feel I’m being a jerk, or am being overly dramatic, or inappropriate, silly, or whatever. How nice to have a being bear witness to my tears or rage without judging me; without being afraid of my feelings; or wanting to change me. He just watches and listens. Does he understand my concerns? Probably not (although other studies suggest that possibility), but he takes in my sadness. And often he comes and rubs his soft body against my leg as proof that he’s with me. And, of course, for all these reasons I feel less sad or mad.”
Granted, companion animals have learned, over thousands of years of domestication, to be there for us, in body and—I believe—in spirit, no matter the circumstance, no matter our mood. And it’s not just they who have been altered by these years of togetherness and adjustment, we have been, too. As much as they hear, see and feel us, so do we hear, see and—with some serious attention to them—feel them, as well.
The French writer, Nobel prizewinner Anatole France, was, in his day, one of the busiest writers ever, with a stunning output of novels and poetry. Something struck me about this literary man, one wonderful observation of his that’s not literary at all:
“Until one has loved an animal,” he wrote, “a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
And when we do love an animal, and do feel our souls awaken in an astonishing and powerful way, we experience that mutual love as so much more life-changing than it might seem from the outside.
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Dalma Heyn, MSW, LMSW, is a therapist, author and certified pet-loss grief specialist, who lives at the Connecticut shore with her scruffy, fluffy Havanese, Luna. Dalma graduated from The University of Southern California with a degree in psychology and English, and from New York University with a MA degree in social work.
Speaking and writing about human intimate relationships for so many years brought her to another kind of intimate relationship: the one we have with our companion animals. Dalma finds that many aspects of this love are woefully underestimated, for reasons she discusses here with other passionate readers on this site. Her mission is to shed light on this important reciprocal love–which she believes can transform the inevitable loss of our pets from an unbearable experience to a meaningful and healing one. Dalma is now available for consultations for our members.