Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Animals as Healers and Teachers

Animals as Healers and Teachers

As an only child growing up on a large ranch in Ardmore, Oklahoma, I surrounded myself with animals. You name it, I probably had it at one point—dogs, cats, a ferret, pigs, hermit crabs, birds, a miniature burro, hamsters, frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles, and horses, to name a few.

I remember I couldn’t wait to get home from school so I could saddle up my horse, Fancy, and ride until both of us were exhausted. It was such a thrilling and humbling experience galloping so fast my eyes watered and my knuckles whitened as I held onto the reins for dear life. We were so in tune with each other that I rarely had to kick her to get her to run faster; she just knew. We would stop at one of the many ponds to let her drink and I would talk with her about what was on my mind…and she always listened.

Fancy impacted me in countless ways, but I believe she chose me so she could help me through my parents’ divorce when I was 8 years old. She gave me an escape, a safe haven where we could do anything we wanted and where judgments and worries were kept at bay; man, it was freeing! Sadly, Fancy died my senior year of high school, which I believe was not coincidental—she stayed with me long enough to see me transition into the next chapter of my life.

Like horses, dogs have also been healing agents in my life. I had many dogs growing up, so it is difficult for me to say which one was the most impactful or taught me my most valuable lesson. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them all and they were all special in their own ways. I remember being eagerly greeted by them as I returned home from school or from a weekend-long basketball tournament; time had stood still for them. They didn’t harp on the fact that I was gone—what mattered was that I was back! And the greeting would not have been complete without the barrage of puppy dog kisses, squeals, and dirty paw prints. I would leave my things in the car and sit on the ground with them, loving every second of slobbery affection. They also helped keep me sane through my parents’ divorce by lending me a floppy ear in which I could spill the contents of my heart and mind.

My current dog, Joplin (yes, after Janis) is probably my canine soulmate. For those of you reading this who don’t know me, it may seem I am obsessed with my dog. Ok, fine, I’m happy to admit that I am. She is worth obsessing over. I have had her for 8 years next month. I got her from Animal Control while I was living in Montana. The first time I saw her, I knew that she was the one for me. She was the only dog at the shelter that wasn’t jumping up and down and barking incessantly. She looked at me as if to say, “You know you want me.” I couldn’t take her home for another 5 days to give her owner time to claim her. I called every day to see if she was still there and I would go play with her. We had an instant connection. I was allowed to take her home on the 6th day.

Joplin and I have a bond that is almost indescribable. She knows how I am feeling and when I need her. She gives me unconditional love and trusts me implicitly.

Joplin has helped me through some pretty dark times. About three and a half years ago, I called off my wedding a few hours before the ceremony (it was a great decision, but awful timing). I moved into my own place on the outskirts of Missoula, Montana, where I still had a semester left in grad school. Joplin was my constant companion. She helped me study by letting me rest my head on her belly as I read my textbooks in front of the wood-burning stove, my only source of heat (besides her). Together, we explored our new wooded surroundings and climbed snow-covered hills. She protected me from myself, too. I would cry out of embarrassment and guilt of not having made the no-wedding decision sooner and Joplin would place her chin on my leg and look at me with her amber eyes. She let me know it was okay and she still loved me. I was not damaged goods.

Joplin has taught me to live more in the moment and to not get caught up in craziness of everyday life. She acts like every walk is her first walk ever—she finds new things, smells different areas, and seems genuinely impressed by the novelty of walking, even when it is the same route! She doesn’t care if I am still wearing my pajamas or if my hair is disheveled. She doesn’t pay attention to whether or not I am wearing matching socks. She doesn’t mind that I am a Cancer and can be overly emotional at times. She doesn’t expect perfection. She loves me for me—and that is the most important lesson.

Someday, I plan on incorporating the use of animals in my own counseling practice. I am attending an Animal-Assisted Therapy workshop in April and I am looking forward to learning how I can make my dream a reality.

I’d like to end this blog entry with a quote from Anatole France:

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Much love,



Bridging Harts Institute & Psychotherapy
203 S. Alma St. Suite #300
Allen, TX 75013
T: (972) 562 5002
Email: info@bridgingharts.com


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