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How our furry friends can keep us grounded in times of trauma and transition

How our furry friends can keep us grounded in times of trauma and transition

More than companion animals, pets are anchors in troubled times.

"The warm, loving presence of a pet can make a world of difference during times of transition. "

Our first date was a threesome: me, my future husband, and his dog.

She was a boundlessly enthusiastic Australian Shepherd puppy. I was not a dog person.

She jumped all over my first-date clothes. But, in spite of myself, very soon I fell in love with both her owner and her. (Not necessarily in that order.)

A year later, when we decided to move to a different city, it was Nala’s presence that made our unfamiliar new house in Cape Town feel like home.

Waking up to her soulful brown eyes and furry cuddles, and falling asleep to her contented sighs as she settled next to our bed, grounded us at a time when everything felt foreign.

It was thanks to our daily dog walks to the local park with Nala straining at the leash, that we identified pet-friendly spots and got to know the area better.

She also helped us make new friends, because nothing breaks the ice like bonding over dog poop.

Nala was there when we took the plunge and bought a house together. She was there when I held the secret possibility of a little life growing inside me, and she was the first one I told when the pregnancy test proved positive.

And she was there when we brought our son home after an emergency run to the hospital following a tricky home birth. (He had a big head.)

The warm, loving presence of a pet can make a world of difference during times of transition, whether the turbulence is experienced internally or as a result of external events.

During the pandemic, a time of global uncertainty and wide-spread fear, people turned even more to the solace and companionship of pets.

In the United States, one in five households adopted a cat or a dog. In the UK, demand for pets soared, with enquiries to animal shelters and adoption centres increasing by more than 253 percent during lockdown.

Many people attest to the benefits of having a pet. In an informal poll on Facebook, I was inundated with anecdotes of what pets have meant to the lives of friends.

A writer friend said she’s not sure she could have finished her memoir if it hadn’t been for the affection and constant, purring companionship of her two cats.

Another friend got through long months of a very difficult court case with the tail-wagging love of her two Yorkies.

The rich relationship we have with the animals in our lives is not only about what they give us. It’s also about how much they depend on us.

As Penny Pistorius, an animal lover, says: “Animals are grounding. Living with one is a life contract. Whatever trauma you’re going through, animals are a stake in the ground that you can, and have to, hold onto: someone needs you, and depends on you absolutely.”

It is this deep sense of responsibility that saved a friend, who wants to remain anonymous: “At a time when I was deeply depressed, my dog saved my life. I was at the high-rise window, ready to jump, and I thought: Who will feed Frankie?”

For me, it is heartening to imagine each of us, along with millions of people around the world – the newly-widowed woman struggling with insomnia, the young boy fearing the school bully, the teenager studying into the night – weathering the storms that life brings, thanks to the stolid and steady companionship of pets.

Cathy Park Kelly

Cathy Park Kelly is the author of “Boiling A Frog Slowly, a Memoir of Love Gone Wrong”, published by Karavan Press.

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