Healing Partnerships and Animal Grace

Healing Partnerships and Animal Grace

by Carol Marriott (reprinted from WHOLifE Journal

 

“If you have ever found yourself loved by an animal, or have ever loved one, you have already experienced the ministry of animals.  You may have also experienced that this love can be healing and redemptive – you may also have experienced it as painful and sad.  But many of you reading can bear witness to the power of our relationships with animals, and how that power has transformed us, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” Elizabeth Teal – Ministry of Animals

 

I was visiting with a friend in Manitoba one weekend, and during a family gathering, I met her elderly and now very frail and wheel chair bound father, a long-retired farmer…you know, the tough as nails type…with an animals are only worth anything if you can work them or eat them kind of attitude. Understanding that this attitude is mostly a result of upbringing, culture and economic environment, I thought I’d try an experiment! I picked up a tiny 6 week old kitten from a family of cats living on the acreage where the party was being held, and I brought this tiny ball of fur to my friend’s father.  I placed the kitten in his arms as he sat in his wheelchair. The look on his face was pure joy. His eyes lit up brightly and tears sprang forth. This kitten touched a place his heart so deeply hidden and protected, that his emotional reaction took my friend and her family by surprise. Never before had they witnessed this soft place in his heart.

According to Dr. Allen Schoen, author of Kindred Spirits, if we combined all the benefits that we receive from animals in a pill, it would be the most powerful pill known to man!

Animals are proven to have substantial, meaningful and positive healing effects on people. Benefits include healing for physical conditions such as high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease along with mental, emotional and spiritual concerns. People dealing with depression, autism, anxiety, grief and loneliness can all benefit enormously from the unconditional love, intuitive nature and open hearts of animals.

Nowadays animals now play a significant role in healing, counseling, coaching and therapy. Animals are involved in a myriad of activities benefiting human emotional, spiritual and physical health. Some of the ways animals are involved include an array of animal-assisted therapy with dogs, cats horses and a variety of other animals, service animals for people with disabilities, crisis intervention, education, grief support, complementary medicine, patient care, and companionship in care homes, hospices and other assisted living facilities.

A powerful, moving and effective model of rehabilitation is growing in prisons and correction facilities world wide. In programs like A New Leash on Life, Pathways to Hope, Puppies Behind Bars, and Second Chance Partnership, inmates have an opportunity to learn new skills, to give and receive love and compassion, and to bear responsibility—qualities that can be developed from working with dogs, horses and other companion animals, and attributes that will help them heal and integrate when released.

The payoff is reciprocal. The dog, cat or horse, becomes more adoptable. Some lucky person gets a chance to take in a companion animal who may have been, under other circumstances, just one more sad story, unwanted or unadoptable. Inmates are also contributing substantially to the vital training of service animals for people with disabilities.

In emergency response to Hurricane Katrina, The Humane Society of the United States was desperate to find new quarters for 160 dogs and 40 birds, the overflow from an increasingly crowded temporary shelter at Gonzalez, La. Thanks to the willingness of Warden James LeBlanc of the Dixon Correctional Institute,  the animals found a comfortable shelter in a huge concrete dairy barn on the prison grounds. Inmate volunteers were trained by veterinarians and animal behaviorists in the care and handing of the refugee dogs and birds. Runs and cages were built and cleaned; sick and frightened animals were treated and calmed; the unexpected prison guests were fed, watered, and played with, and the spirits of animals and inmates rose!

The many stories of healing and positive changes in the hearts and attitudes of inmates involved in the various animal rehabilitation programs is profound. A female inmate at a prison in Jackson, Louisiana (that also provided shelter for rescued cats and kittens from the hurricane affected areas) immediately connected with Scarlett, a kitten so traumatized she wouldn’t let anyone touch her. After months of love and patience, Scarlett began trusting her, and now the two often cuddle up together. “When I look at her, I see that after all this time, I’m not so wild anymore — and she’s not so wild anymore,” she said.

Animals can be the magical ingredient, bringing about long-term changes in attitudes and behaviour, with prisoners often finding out for the first time what it’s like to give and receive affection. Looking at the pictures of the inmates and animals on graduation day, the joy, pride and affection for the animals is immediately evident.

Alan Beck (Director, Center For The Human-Animal Bond) wrote that it is the “loving devotion, the soft touch, the constant companionship, the attentive eye, and the uncritical ear of the pet that is so attractive to many of us. Pets are uncritically accepting, give love completely and openly, and are loyal at all times under all circumstances. The affection provided by an animal is simple, unconditional, and uncomplicated.

The following story suggests that the healing benefit of animal-assisted therapy can be so simple to implement yet have incredibly powerful results.

Lim Hong-aun was severely depressed. A schizophrenic in his mid-40s, he had spent almost half his life in mental hostels in Singapore and Malaysia. Living in a hostel in Ipoh, he barely spoke to anyone and spent long periods lying in his room.

Then Dr. M. Mahadevan, newly appointed head of Lim’s hostel, decided that many of his patients would benefit from visiting his neighbouring horse farm. Caring for horses, the doctor reasoned, might help long-institutionalized patients open up and interact with the outside world.

Lim was initially reluctant to leave the hostel, let alone go near horses. But with encouragement from the hostel staff, he began grooming, watering and walking the animals. Before long, Lim started talking to the horses, telling them his troubles. He would smile when a horse nudged him for more food or acknowledged his presence with a whinny. Gradually, the contact with the animals encouraged Lim to open up to people. For the first time, he started talking to staff at the hostel.

Lim eventually moved to a nearby halfway house, where he continued to receive care but was free to come and go, then took a job helping to run Mahadevan’s home in Kuala Lumpur. “Hong-aun’s life has improved dramatically,” Mahadevan says. “There’s no question the horses brought him out of his withdrawn state.

Well-known author, veterinarian and animal advocate, Dr. Michael Fox says that “each of us can be a part of the healing of humanity’s relationship with animals. Every time we feel an outpouring of love for an animal, or perform some small kindness toward them, we can offer up that love and kindness to the spirit of all animals. When we catch a glimpse of a beautiful wild creature, we can take time to thank it for its magnificence and for gracing our life in that moment. Our thanks will be received by the animal and our love transmitted to all others of its species and the entire over-soul of animals as well. Each day we can offer deep appreciation to our own animal companions for their presence in our lives.

 

 

 


by Bliss Drive Review