“Most of the more complex emotions are common to the higher animals and ourselves. Everyone has seen how jealous a dog is of his master’s affection, if lavished on any other creature; and I have observed the same fact with monkeys. This shows that animals not only love, but have desire to be loved.”
(Charles Darwin: “The Descent of Man” 1871)
As a qualified psychotherapist, I have had a great many years of experience in caring for people with anxiety and depression. During this time, I have helped people to achieve their personal goals, overcome challenges and accept the wonder of living without anxiety. Through my work, I also discovered that I am able to understand the emotional needs of animals, especially dogs and cats. Applying my human experiences, with my personal interest in animals it seems that I am quite gifted at being able to help improve the relationship between a person and their pets.
Here is my story.
I lived with my cat Matisse for 13 years. She was a gift from the sky – literally! In August 2001, she had been ejected from a moving car and whilst travelling through the air she collided with a female cyclist who was travelling behind the car. This woman saved her. At that time I didn’t particularly love cats, and certainly wasn’t looking for one, but a friend of mine, who knew the cyclist, insisted that I should come and see the poor thing.
The moment I saw this scared little creature and our eyes met, it was love at first sight! She was a very frightened thing and trembled a lot. I decided that she needed a place where she could feel safe, so for the next month, every night she slept in my bed, in the hollow of my tummy. It seemed like a dream to me, almost as if she had been sent to me for a purpose. I took care of this little vulnerable cat, and as I did so, the quality of her life improved immeasurably. At that time I assumed, quite presumptuously, that any progress in my own life then was due to myself. It was only years later that I realised this was untrue – any improvements to my life were due to Matisse, my little cat.
Through Matisse, I discovered a lot of things. Most of all, I discovered myself. At that time I was working as a psychotherapist, and I encountered many people whose minds seemed to be a prison of fear, sadness and anger. I am very grateful to the people who asked me to help them because, through them, I learned a great deal about life. However, with Matisse and the other animals I have worked with, I discovered something even more precious – my own true nature.
I am fascinated with how, in unspoken ways, a human can interact synergistically with the psyche of an animal, cooperating without speech only through eye contact and body language. Through my observations I have come to the conclusion that, if we are able to relate to animals with love, then through that very special relationship we are also able to love ourselves. Every time I returned home, Matisse would run to me and rub her forehead against mine which, in cat language, means, “I consider you as a member of my family”. It didn’t matter whether I returned home once or ten times a day, her reaction was always the same. I, in from my own side, felt affirmed by this loving welcome, and completely at home and a peace with the world.
I noticed that in those moments with Matisse, my brain experienced a release of endorphins, the hormone to which we owe our sense of well-being. Endorphins provide us with feelings of satisfaction, pleasure and happiness, they are a veritable cure-all for mind and body. They are also released when we listen to music, are playing sport, eat chocolate, come into contact with nature, meditate, and when we fall in love. Unfortunately however, many of these endorphin-releasing circumstances occur in our lives only occasionally! When we relate positively to animals on the other hand, there are multiple opportunities in our daily lives to experience this sense of well-being, and for us to take care of ourselves in a holistic way.
Meeting Matisse has set me off on a wonderful journey of discovery of the love that exists between humans and animals. I hope that soon I can share some of that love with your very own precious pet.