Posted by Laura Gongora on October 23, 2023
Did you know that pets have been found to have a powerful impact on our mental health? Research shows that having a pet reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness, and increases feel good hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. We now know that pet owners have lower heart rates, blood pressure, and cholesterol than pet free individuals. Pets bring real joy and unconditional love to our lives.
Pets are playful companions, they remind us to move our bodies through play, and bring us connection and comfort. They are also wonderful teachers: Pets educate us about the fundamentals of responsibility, caregiving, and building relationships.
For many people, a furry friend is more than a pet, they are family. In therapy, clients often express their gratitude and love for their pets. They share funny memories about their daily interactions with their pets. They also discuss their profound grief when they have had to say goodbye. In listening to clients’ stories about their beloved pets, I began to reflect on my own relationship with my two-year-old cat, Ellie. I decided to write Ellie a thank you letter for the ways in which she supports my mental health, fills me with love, and teaches me valuable lessons.
My sweet Ellie,
Thank you for teaching me to give and receive love. You have been with me through my best and worst days. I can count on you to greet me with the loudest meow when I come home. I love your affectionate headbutts and wet nose kisses. Thank you for attuning to me when I am sad, anxious, or stressed. You know the perfect moment to snuggle on my lap and purr to provide me with the comfort and reassurance that I need.
Thank you for reminding me to be mindful and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Mornings on the balcony together are the best. I love watching you roll on the floor soaking up the sun tummy side up. You are the happiest and most vulnerable in that moment. I love how you scan the outdoors from the window, chirping at birds or planes flying by. You become intrigued when it rains or snows. You spend hours observing the world. Your excitement and gratitude for food makes me laugh. You shake your tail each meal, as if you were eating for the very first time. Life can be hectic and overwhelming, but you remind me to slow down, take in the beauty of the present moment, and to be thankful for each day.
Thank you for reminding me of the importance of routine. I don’t think I will ever adjust to your 6:30am wake-up time but I admire your consistency! The rest of the day you like to spend eating, bathing, napping, and playing. When your routine is interrupted you become upset. Adhering to your routine has encouraged me to be more intentional with mine. I’m reminded to take better care of myself by spending time outside, moving my body, eating regular meals, getting adequate sleep, and making time for socializing and fun.
Thank you for being social while setting boundaries. When you came into my life, Ellie, I had just moved into a new apartment building where I knew no one. Somehow, you have become well-known on our floor and all the neighbours love seeing you and petting you during our hallway strolls. Your sweet and kind nature has allowed me to create new connections and build a sense of community with neighbours. I love your social nature and your ability to set boundaries. When you become overwhelmed or need your space, you let me know with a quick glance, a meow, or a nip. In turn, I set boundaries with you when your behaviour is unacceptable. Together, we have learned to honour each other’s needs.
Thank you for bringing joy, laughter, and purpose to my life. Thank you for trusting in me and feeling safe with me. Thank you for being my sweet, caring, loving best friend. I promise I will love you forever.
If you have a pet or have had a pet in the past, what would you thank them for? Have they taught you anything about yourself? About life? How have they had a meaningful impact on how you live your life? What lessons can you take forward in your life?
Saunders, J., Parast, L., Babey, S. H., & Miles, J.V. (2017). Exploring the differences between pet and non-pet owners: Implications for human-animal interaction research and policy. PLOS one 12(6).https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0179494
Van Heeckeren, A.M. (2021, February 2). 10 mental and physical health benefits of having pets. One Health Organization. https://www.onehealth.org/blog/10-mental-physical-health-benefits-of-having-pets
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