I think we’re all familiar with the idea of cats and dogs being used to help soothe and help patients like our parents. Pets and care homes are a good idea because of the beneficial impact they have on the patients there. Have you ever thought how a pet might be helpful to you as a caregiver? Pets can help you relieve your stress, too, but they can also serve as very wise instructors in how good care is given.
Dr. Marty Becker is a vet and author of The Healing Power of Pets, which I recently discovered in my daughter’s bookcase. Dr. Becker was writing from the point of view of a patient, explaining how we can be healed by bonding with our pets and learning through their behaviors.
He cites a study by Dr. Karen Allen of the State University of New York at Buffalo in which stockbrokers who were being treated for hypertension adopted pets and the resulting drop in stress indicators enabled them to reduce or eliminate completely their need for medication to treat their high blood pressure.
Obviously anything that reduces caregiver stress is a good idea. Here are some other caregiving areas in which a pet may be a helpful teacher:
- Being fully present to your loved one– “But Sirloin’s (his dog) gift to me was…his intense focus on his surroundings (and) he lent me the capacity we modern humans so envy: the ability to be completely in the present.”
- Incorporating laughter and play into caregiving– He notes that the point of play with a dog is not to determine a winner or loser, but to engage. “Your dog will happily fetch that stick until you’re both exhausted. No hidden agendas, no posturing for personal gain, no duplicity. Just play for the sake of play.”
- Slowing your life pace down to match that of your loved one– “Despite our attempts to make everything march at a pace commensurate with the urgency of our lives, cats have flat-out refused to toe the line, or even approach it, for that matter.”
- Ability to think outside the box, to be creative in problem-solving— (Play) “for cats is not simply a medley of infantile behaviors, but an extremely complex phenomenon, because it is free and variable, and not constrained by rigid patterns.”
If you have a pet, there’s a lot to be gained from them during your time as a caregiver. If you don’t own one, find one that you can visit regularly for some uncomplicated affection and a few basic lessons in caregiving.