Meet my dog, Lilly Goat – aka Lilly the Pill, Pilly, Pill Pill…I think you get it. She’s a troublemaker. But I love her.
Here’s a typical conversation between the two of us:
Me (in baby-talk): There’s my little stupid! You a poop faced fuzz bucket!
Lilly: I’ll eat you up I love you so! (Proceeds to try to ingest my toes)
Me: You bad, bad! You baaaaad witto pup pup! (playfully incite dog to further toe violence.)
Lilly gets into a toe eating frenzy, at which point I must take evasive maneuvers.
Lilly is more than just a fun companion. She is also good medicine. The Healing Power of Pets, an article originally written by Peter Browne and adapted from the August 200o Asian edition of Readers Digest by Martin Williams, says that “even desperately ill patients respond to this unorthodox therapy – a cold wet nose and a furry cuddle.” I agree. I’m no expert on the science behind the healing power of pets, but I do know what they’ve done for me, my family, and my friends.
Fourth and fifth grades were stressful for me. I was the quiet girl in the funny-looking glasses and hand-me-down clothes. The kids bullied me and math was a perpetual thorn in my side. I’m not sure how I would have coped had it not been for our horses, Honey, Tobey, and Strawberry. Going to the pasture was my way of decompressing. I sat there in the grass just to be close to them, listening to them munch while I drew. There was something satisfying about the rhythmic crunch, crunching, the sweet, horsey smell, the quiet snuffling. All the stress would drain away. I could have lived in the pasture then.
The cats helped too. I had a big fluffy tom called Mr. Moose. He was a lazy good-for-nothing when it came to hunting, but his cuddles were medicinal. He was my leg warmer in bed, my dolly, and a good-natured nuisance when I was trying to draw or read. His purr, his warmth, and his loving and trusting personality were soothing to me.
This guy looks a lot like Moose
I don’t want to underestimate my childhood miseries, but I had no idea at that time just how painful life could become. Just a little over two years ago when I was enduring a horrible bout of insomnia, it was my dog Elsie who was there for me day and night. When the whole world was asleep, and the screaming black of night threatened to drive me crazy, I would lie on the floor and hug my patient dog, a warm, living, loving creature, and I would feel a little less alone; a little less like my whole world was caving in. I always knew by her constant attendance and the look in her warm dog eyes that she knew I needed her. Elsie is gone now, but I will never forget her calm devotion.
Lilly came to us while Elsie was still alive, a white whirling dervish, the Tasmanian Devil of dogs. We didn’t choose her, she chose us. Once we tamed the little beast and she became aware of what was expected of her, she began to wheedle her way into our hearts. John Muir said in one of his essays that terriers have “little tricksy ways”. This is true. Lilly makes us laugh, which is one of the things that make her worth every bit of trouble she causes. Even on my worst days, Lilly can make me feel good. She’s the house jester, my lap warmer, and my walking buddy. Her energy level is very high, which is just what I need right now. I need for her to make me feel bad if I don’t get up off my butt and take her for a walk. She has no idea she’s being useful, she just wants to go.
Animals are pretty generous with their affection. But the love should be mutual. For example, my mother bought her horse, Honey, when she was thirteen. The reason she was able to do this with her $100 of babysitting money is because Honey was considered a “dog”, which is horse person talk for good-for-nothing. She had been horribly abused and given up as a lost cause. My mother, though, could see potential in Honey. And she was desperate for a horse. So she took that horse and loved her with all she had in her thirteen-year-old heart, buying the best feed, again, with babysitting money, brushing and currying faithfully, earning trust by showing affection, and eventually, training Honey to be ridden. When Honey eventually won reserve grand champion at a horse show, people were amazed. A newspaper article was written about how a girl had transformed a “dog” into a prize-winning show horse. My mother’s love and devotion to that horse is the reason I could safely sit near her in the pasture and listen to her graze. It’s why I could approach honey and touch her soft muzzle, feed her apples, and brush her flanks.
Moose and Elsie and Lilly and many of the other wonderful animals I’ve had the privilege to know over the years had love to give because that is what they had received. Animals have needs, and sometimes those needs can seem overwhelming to those who have never experienced the responsibility. But the responsibility itself can be healing. We need to be needed. The knowledge that a living creature would suffer if we did not get up and feed them, that they would miss us if we weren’t there, is often enough to keep us going when we want to give up. I know that’s how it was for my Grandma. Her little dog was her friend. That’s what she always said. The night Grandma passed away, I sat in her favorite recliner and pet that dog like my life depended on the reality of her tiny body. I love that dog because of what she gave Grandma during the last years of her life. And I was grief stricken not for myself and my family only, but for Grandma’s little friend.
All animals have love to give. But how much would an animal have to give if they seldom got enough to eat, never felt a caring human hand, or never heard a kind word? What if an animal felt that humans were too unpredictable to be trusted? How much love would they have to give? To experience the healing power of furry love, we have to give love first. And the rewards are priceless.
Photo by Richard Gillin