By Vaila Bhaumick

According to the Chinese zodiac, I was born in The Year of the Monkey. And I don’t mean 2020, because obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this if I’d just been born, but I digress.

People born in the year of the monkey are supposedly intelligent, calm, logical thinkers who become great leaders. Although that sounds great, I think of myself more as a Shetland pony – grumpy, stubborn, but just cute and crafty enough that I can win people over. One of my “kind”, in a bid to elevate his breed’s reputation, one particular Shetland pony has been hailed a coronavirus hero after delivering supplies to people self-isolating in his village.

Throughout the world, across belief systems, mythologies and ancient religions, we look to the animal kingdom for inspiration and protection. We revere animals. We use them for our own sustenance, but also view them as loyal friends. Why do we love having animals close to us? Let’s find out.

When the World Is Too ‘Peopley’

There’s a popular meme featuring Snoopy and Charlie Brown. It shows both characters in bed, and the caption reads “I’m staying in bed Snoopy, it’s too peopley out there.” If you’re an introvert like me, and the outside world sometimes gets a bit ‘too peopley’, it’s wonderful to have a faithful furry companion by your side, loving you unconditionally. This might seem like a cop-out – running away from the problems that we face with people in daily life, but we often need a break from constant chat or bickering. In this instance, animals show us how to ‘just be’ for a moment, and most importantly, they don’t argue back!

Animal Therapy

It is precisely for this reason that animals are fantastic therapists – they don’t judge, they listen to our problems, they can help us realise our emotions, and comfort us in our bleakest moments. I’m not advocating that you part ways with your psychologist and go out and buy two rabbits, a python and a parrot for some soul searching, but having an animal around does help. 

Pet Therapy or Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a growing field where patients interact with animals, typically dogs and cats, under supervision to help relieve physical or mental disorders. AAT can be applied to a broad range of health problems, and its aims can be as far-reaching as increasing self-esteem or improving motor skills and joint movement. Advocates say that animals have a calming effect on patients, making them feel safe and secure. This helps them to develop a better sense of self-worth, stabilise their emotions and ultimately better handle the social aspects of the world around them. 

One therapeutic aspect of pet ownership, which could be very valuable if you are doing some self-reflection, is the theory that our pets act as a mirror. This can be true of the people around us too, but seeing something in a pet which irritates us, is possibly the reflection of that behaviour or those behaviours that we find disgusting in ourselves. After much observation, I have indeed found this to be true and would encourage you to use it as a self-development tool. 

A Friend ‘Til The End

Many people avoid having animals at home because they require a lot of effort –  feeding, cleaning, vet bills, lodging while on holiday, and so the list goes on. Undoubtedly, it is a big commitment, but the rewards far outweigh the hard work.

Although it is heart-wrenching to say goodbye when they pass away, it’s all worth it. Animals can offer so much affection, unconditional love and comfort when you feel like the humans in your life have all let you down. 

Can’t Commit To Furever?

If you’re craving this kind of furry companionship in your life, but can’t fully commit to a pet, there are other ways to do it. You could foster a dog, especially during the Coronavirus outbreak, when many owners may not be able to take care of their pets. If you volunteer for a scheme like this, please ensure you are willing to take care of the animal until it can go back to its owner or find a more permanent home. Alternatively, you can volunteer at a local shelter to take the resident dogs for a walk. Another couple of options are pet-sitting or even pet-sharing, a concept whereby friends or family members enter into an agreement for shared custody of a pet.

In these self-isolated times, we have an opportunity to reflect on how we interact with the animal kingdom, and how we can appreciate them more going forward. If you see unconditional love in an animal, you know that that is possible for yourself. On the other hand, if you see something displeasing in your pet, you know you need to change it in yourself. Animals are the ultimate lesson in self-awareness, and our biggest mistake as the human species is thinking that we are superior. After all, we are animals too.