In exchange for showing compassion, love, and providing necessities like food, water, and shelter, my pets have given me so much more—going beyond simple mood elevation and teaching true life lessons that are invaluable.
April 11 is recognized as National Pet Day, though for pet owners there really is no distinguishing it from other days, as our bonds with pets even extend beyond their lifetime. Such bonds have even attracted researchers to look more closely at pet companionship benefits our health.
For over a decade, the National Institutes of Health have conducted research on the physical and mental benefits of having a pet. For example, pets have been found as supportive to human’s cardiovascular health through their effects on lowering the stress hormone cortisol, as well as lowering cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.
It is without a doubt that my healing journey especially benefitted from the companionship of my pets. In the valleys of the journey, I know they gave me a sense of purpose and reason for being. I found comfort in their presence and focusing on their well-being helped to counter my preoccupation with my own suffering. Even when I found myself symptomatic and reactive specifically to them, the joy and love I held outweighed my desire to avoid them. Fortunately and with great thanks to brain retraining, I no longer have such allergies or sensitivities to my pets.
In this blog entry, I would like to highlight the lessons learned from these amazing creatures and how they have directly enriched my world with their lives.
Pixel is my Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
She has taught me great lessons in how to play and be energetic, but also how to take time for rest and relaxation.
Despite her small stature, she has embodied a drive for adventure and approaching newness with a sense of enthusiasm and bravery. I have learned much in the way of how much power and strength can be packaged in something small.
I learned one of my greatest lessons in unconditional love by her affection and looking to me as a source of safety. It helped to reshape the way I saw myself.
Through her display of joy, I was able to also find it for myself and would mirror her joy when my own felt foreign or inaccessible.
Spyro, my panther chameleon, came into my life as a rescue. I have signficant experience with chameleons, which can be a difficult pet to keep, and was able to help rehabilitate him. When he was a baby, he sustained a tail injury that resulted in him losing much of its prehensile ability.
Chameleons’ tails act like an additional limb and unlike with other lizards, they do not regenerate. With good reason, he had great distrust in humans. I was unable to handle him and so respected his established boundaries .
Not only did Spyro show me how well he could adapt and still maintain mobility, be he also showed me how he could learn to forgive. Though I was not involved in his initial injury, he had dislike for all humans and was very much stuck in fight/flight if anyone engaged with him.
Over time, I was able to build up trust with him while understanding and respecting his boundaries. His boundaries shifted and adjusted as more trust was established, eventually to allowing handling and even hand-feeding/watering. He was able to break his association that all humans were bad, to see that some humans were still good.
He’s shown me that even the “reptillian” brain is neuroplastic. 😉
Goddess Zilla was an unexpected addition to our household 4 years ago. She is a Giant Day Gecko (found natively in Madagascar—which is also where Spyro’s species is found natively). She was adopted from a local pet store, because no one had purchased her and she matured larger than her enclosure could accomodate.
She had been relentlessly trying to escape and had injured her face. This species has delicate skin and for that reason, I have never directly handled her. Fortunately all of her injuries healed as soon as she was provided a supportive environment.
Her drive for her needs showed me how to advocate for myself when those around me were not meeting my needs in terms of my journey for wellness. Her name also captures her personality and how she is both gentle and fierce.
Like all reptiles, as she grows, she sheds away her old layers to make way for the new, something I have also learned as a necessary component to true growth and self-development.
Last but certainly not least are my goldfish. I have been keeping goldfish for the past 9 years and for a brief part of my childhood. The hobby started, again, as a rescue mission. Goldfish were purchased for a photoshoot at a former employer in Manhattan and when no one had plans for what would happen after, I found myself taking a subway to the pet store at Union Square and buying supplies. I cared for them at the office and eventually got my own tank at home.
One fish in my company now is over 8 years old. These pets have been with me the longest and the bond between them has been really quite special. Everything that has been said about a goldfish’s brain or memory is myth because their intelligence is incredible. They know exactly when feeding time is and if I am delayed, they let me know through an audible noise from sunctioning their lips onto the tank glass, as if chiming a bell for butler service. 😅
While I was having my most challenging year in recovery, they gifted me with fry (baby goldfish). I was able to successfully care for and watch them grow from egg to full-size fish. It was an amazingly rewarding experience that showed me the beauty and miracle of life at a time where it wasn’t otherwise available. I enjoyed learning how to and caring for the fry. I especially enjoyed to see their complete evolution and how magical it all seemed. It gave me a sense of hope and purpose each day as they required more attentive care than the adults.
Having a fish tanks in my home have been portals of calm and tranquility. It’s incredibly restorative to watch their movements and fluidity. There is something about the pattern of eye movement in watching fish swim that also evokes calmness. Inspired by their movements, I participated in a JourneyDance class where I danced with my tanks as a backdrop to the experience. An earlier blog post discusses more of the cathartic effects of that moment, which continues to be both a source of inspiration and comfort for me.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post highlighting my pets and the lessons I have gained through their companionship. I would love to hear about your pets in the comments below!