Pets make great therapists: You should get one

Categories: PHS Blog

Radar

Every morning when I come to work, I walk through the kennels to say hello to the dogs. Every single one.

I say, “Hello’ and “good morning!” I introduce myself to new residents and talk about the weather with some of our long-termers.

I make the same rounds in the Critter House every afternoon before lunch to say hello to our bunnies, hamsters and an assortment of other critters that have somehow found their way here.

I don’t know if you know this, but petting a bunny rabbit just before lunch is the perfect emotional pallet cleanser. After petting a bunny, my lunch hour is automatically more enjoyable because it puts me in a more relaxed headspace.

Seriously, try it. I defy you to prove that anyone could be anything less than delightfully contented after petting a bunny. Bring it, naysayers!

I end my workday in the Neely Cat Center, where I engage in in-depth conversation about my day. I believe it’s important to debrief the days events with cats. Let me tell you why.

Cats have absolutely no interest in or tolerance for whining or complaints. Here’s an example of a conversation with Alice (No. A471529) to prove my point:

Alice
Me: “Today is just the worst. I was trying to write my column when the internet went out in my office.How am I supposed to write without internet access?”

Alice: Blinks once and gets up, turning her back to me.

Translation: “Um, how are you this dumb? Did Hemingway need internet access to write? Seriously, get your life together.”

Me: “OK, so maybe you have a point. Technically, I don’t need internet access to draw information from my own head to write about animals. But still. It really messes with my creative juju when I can’t occasionally watch a funny racoon video on YouTube, is all I’m saying.”

Alice: Meows once and buries her head.

Translation: “Don’t even get me started with your human privilege, dumb dumb. You can have tuna anytime you want. Like, for every meal even. Please stop talking; it’s harshing my catnip buzz.”

Me: “You’re right. I have so much to be thankful for. Thank you Alice. Thank you for helping me see the error of my ways.”

And scene.

I have these rituals during my work day to help to remind me why the work we do at the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA is so important.

OK, that’s a lie. I don’t really need to be reminded that the work we do here is important. I have these rituals because they’re fun.

Making my daily rounds is like therapy for me. Fun, interactive play fun.

Sometimes though, like today, my rounds made me feel a little sad.

I was walking through the kennels and stopped by to say hello to my good friend, Radar. I look forward to seeing his contagious smile every day. It’s one of the reasons we’ve become such good friends. In fact, he’s best buds with practically every person that works or volunteers here.

This morning though, it hit me why Radar has been able to build such a wonderful community of friends here: because he’s been here for such a long time.

Yeah, it’s great to have a lot of friends and people rallying around you to see to your care and enrichment. But living in a shelter isn’t much of a life. It’s stressful for all the animals who come here. So the longer they are here, the more friends they make, sure. But they’re not getting to actualize their best life in a real home.

So this morning, as I played with Radar, I started to get rather agitated at the whole thing.

“Why are you still here, Radar? Why?” I asked, genuinely trying to understand (and apparently assuming he had a reasonable answer).

He just looked at me smiling and wagging his tail like my verbal assault was the best conversation ever. Because this was obviously a signal to proceed, I went on with my tangent.

“Is it your ears? Your epic, epic ears that can pick up radio waves from space?” I asked, incredulous. “Are people just jealous of your epic ears? Because if you don’t mind my saying so, I can’t come up with any other viable reason. You’re like, sweetly adorable and stuff. I don’t get it.”

And I don’t get it. This dog goes out on foster field trips all the time with volunteers who only report back what a pleasure he is to be around. To hear them talk, he should be in a leading role in the next Marvel blockbuster.

Oh, and Alice? Why in Rue McClanahan’s name is she still here? She came to us in January and has been my trusted therapist for months now. Don’t get me wrong, I shouldn’t complain that I’m getting thousands of dollars’ worth of mental health benefits from her sage, albeit snarky, advice. But seriously, why?

I mean, this is the cat who has mastered the fine art of “smizing,” the ability to smile with one’s eyes. No one does it better. If she doesn’t get adopted soon, I’m enrolling her to teach a class on it at the Learning Annex.

As I said, shelters are a stressful place for animals to live. Many stay here longer than they should because the stress can manifest in ways that make it difficult to “show well” to prospective adopters. At first glance, they might seem to bark too much, or hide in fear in the back of a kennel where their personalities can’t shine.

My proposition to you is this: Take a moment to see beyond what you see at first glance when it comes to adopting a pet. You may be surprised at what great therapists these beautifully unique animals can be.