These days people are turning more and more to animals for emotional support. An example I came across recently highlighted a sixty-five-year-old man whose registered emotional support animal, named Wally, likes to snuggle and give hugs, despite being a five-foot-long alligator. He received approval from his doctor to use Wally as his support animal after not wanting to go on medication for depression.
Similarly, a college student at Temple University used her cat “Skittles,” an eight-year-old tabby who lives with her in the dormitory. She has said, “If I have feelings for this animal, that means I’m still human.”
The Emotional Support Animals (ESA) organization is owned by people with mental health disorders and provides a service considered necessary by medical professionals. Since rates of anxiety and depression have soared among college students in the last decade, most colleges have policies for both service animals and ESAs. Undoubtedly, in some way, animals sense what their owners feel. However, some animals are more astute than others.
I have known many people who relate to their animals, especially dogs, as humans. Dogs are known for their faithfulness and protection as they are companions to humans. It takes a lot to break a dog’s spirit, and its ability to be loyal even when abused is tremendous. Its desire to be a companion is great. When a dog dies, very often the owner grieves for many months. In my observation, eventually the owner acquires a new dog—often from an animal shelter.
Many years ago, I had the good fortune of a riding a horse in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The guide on this trip was part Native American and part Hispanic, had grown up in this terrain, and so was very familiar with it. It was a rough ride with no trail, which actually made the experience more exquisite. We were in God’s country, so to speak, which was untouched by humankind, commercialism, or competition. Horses are known for travel, power, and freedom—exactly what I felt that day. Symbolically, the horse brings with it new journeys—teaching one how to ride into new directions and how to awaken and discover freedom and power. At that time, I was at a crossroads in my life, and needless to say, I chose freedom and power as I embarked on writing books and spreading the word about shamanism, resulting in my book, Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet.
Dear reader, what significant experiences have you had with animals? In what ways have they inspired and/or changed your life? All comments are welcome.