There are three ways having a pet makes you a better person. This isn’t just for my pet parent listeners. If you’ve been thinking about getting some kind of pet, maybe this episode will help give you a nudge. And if you’ve had a pet in the past you’ve still benefited from these things.
I’m not going to talk about how studies have shown that having a pet reduces your chance of dying by 24% percent, or that it lowers cortisol and blood pressure, or makes you feel less lonely and more supported. Even though all those things are true, they aren’t specifically why having a pet can make you a better person.
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These three things I’m about to share with you are
Reason number: Pets are highly skilled mindfulness teachers.
When you think about what traits or practices make up mindfulness, they are things that animals do pretty much all the time, without trying. I’m talking about paying attention, having awareness, and making that awareness non-judgmental. These are things that we as humans often have to try to do, or remember to do, and animals are constantly modeling how it’s done all day, every day. When you spend time interacting with, around, or observing animals, you are essentially attending a mindfulness seminar.
Reason number two is, They build ritual into your life.
Feeding animals, walking animals, greeting animals when you get home, grooming animals, changing their litter box or cages–these are all routines that require you to surrender your “I have to do all my very important things” narrative and just be present and care for another creature. Rituals give our days a rhythm, and they build in pockets of time that are restful in their repetition. You may think “Ugh I have to stop what I’m doing and go walk the dog,” but then the walk gets you outside, you get some exercise and some natural light, you see the other people walking their dogs that you see most days, you notice how the season has started to change, you come back refreshed. And it’s the ritual of doing it every day that builds that one little walk into an ingrained part of what you do that delivers long-lasting benefit.
And reason number three is, They give you a wider lens on the world–and that lens can inspire you to act differently.
You know, humans aren’t the only game in town. Every animal plays a vital role in the broader ecosystem, and remembering that we share our home–as in, Earth–with living creatures helps us think beyond our daily dramas and desire for convenience and comfort.
I don’t buy many six packs these days, but when I do get some Zevia for the kids – that’s no-sugar soda that’s been sweetened with stevia and it’s really pretty good! The kids happily drink it!
Anyway, When I do get some Zevia for the kids, I always cut up the plastic rings because of all the campaigns in the 80s that talked about how dolphins and sea birds were getting their snouts stuck in the plastic rings and starving to death. There’s just something about animals that tugs on our heartstrings in such a way that we will actually clean up our act.
This animal-inspired impetus to do better also carries over to taking better care of ourselves.
One interesting study found that when teens with type 1 diabetes were charged with taking care of a fish for three months, they were more likely to regularly monitor their blood sugar levels, which is crucial for managing the disease, and their blood sugar levels came down significantly compared to teens who weren’t given a fish to care for.
And, more deeply, animals help open your heart. You know, sometimes, it happens to many of us, where you just feel like you can’t deal with humanity in general. Or maybe you’re dealing with something really hard or just feeling unlovable yourself. No matter who you are or how you’re feeling in general, animals can help you feel love and affection and wonder and all these positive emotions that heal you.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is just to think about the animals you care about – whether those are specific animals, like pets, or bigger categories, like maybe you love birds or baby goats just fill you with joy. What do you admire about them? What do they have to teach you? Just spend a little time expanding your awareness of the gifts animals have to offer.
I’ll have plenty of more practical suggestions for taking care of animals in the rest of this weeks episodes, which includes an interview with Jodi Helmer, founder of the Naughty Donkey Farm Sanctuary outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, with her story of how fostering dogs led to her and her husband opening their farm to donkeys, goats, chickens, dogs, feral cats, and alpacas–all of whom had nowhere else to go.