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Why Animals Are Therapy

Animals are extraordinary. Animals are magic. Animals are therapy.

As I leave a doctor’s appointment regarding some bizarre anxiety attacks I’ve been having, my mind wanders to animals as I personally find them to be a comforting, creative solution for quelling the wound up. “What if I got a comfort animal?” I keep asking myself. “What if I got a little potato of a dog that was certified to help me with my breathing and heart rate?”

That seems sweet yet selfish, the sort of silly thing a rich person does because they’re too up their own ass to suck their shit up themselves. That isn’t necessarily how I’d like to look or be nor is my anxiety that big of a problem that a therapy dog would be needed. It’s more of a piping desire that is couched next to my wanting a third dog. Details.

But animals are therapy. Try as I might to detach my unsettled mind with the magic of a dog, the two have a magnetic attraction, a problem with a solution. Most animals have this ability and dogs, in particular, are famous for helping. National Geographic explains as it relates to therapy dogs comforting survivors of the 2012 Newtown shooting.

The presence of an animal can help facilitate a discussion with human counselors or simply provide wordless emotional release, said Rachel Wright, director of Pet Partners’ therapy animal program.

[…]

To some, the idea of sending a dog to a grieving person might seem too simplistic. But [psychologist Debbie] Custance says that very simplicity is part of what makes the connection between humans and canines so powerful.

“When humans show us affection, it’s quite a complicated thing that involves expectations and judgments,” she said. “But with a dog, it’s a very uncomplicated, nonchallenging interaction with no consequences. And if you’ve been through a hard time, it’s lovely to have that.”

That is lovely to have. There is no judgement, no stigma, no need to process: just to be.

But where does this come from? Why exactly are animals therapy? New York Times Magazine has a recent story on horses in Compton that are being used in therapeutic ways that suggests an answer. The story is written by Charles Siebert who also wrote about the power of parrots in treating PTSD.

Something extraordinary occurs when we’re in the presence of a fellow sentient being. When we let go of language’s tacit conceptual constraints and judgments, we allow ourselves a kind of time travel toward our own inner animal. Science is revealing the ways that the physiology of our psychology can be found across species: the common neuronal structures and attendant nerve wirings that we share in varying measures with a startling array of both vertebrates and invertebrates, including fellow primates, elephants, whales, parrots, bees and fruit flies. Animal therapy makes us aware of this cross-species interconnectivity on the purest, subconscious level.

Purity is what it’s about. It’s like when you stare at a piece of art and have a dialogue regarding beauty and grace and feel at east—all because you’re staring at a bunch of colors thrown onto a canvas. Animals are more than this, yes, but it’s a similar pure connection.

The purity here is derived from our literal getting out of our heads. Animals help us do this by simplifying ourselves.

Rather than augmenting higher-level consciousness, a substance like psilocybin actually shuts down our brain’s ego center, which, under duress, can confer crippling fear, guilt and insecurity, and instead allows people access to their unfettered emotions and sense of childlike wonder. Allows them, in other words, a mind-altering walk in the wood with no names.

How beautiful is this? I love it.

Thank you for helping, animals. They really are magic and, for someone like a racing mind like me, they can be delightful little saviors who live to make you happy (and vice versa).

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