Pet Prose: Sensitivity

Editor’s Note: The Pet Pro has over 20 years professional experience in dog training and pet care, as well as in caring for sick animals.

By The Pet Pro

I once had a client who had a debilitating chronic illness that had eluded diagnosis for years. She experienced fatigue and muscle weakness, terrible joint pain, skin rashes and breakouts, stomach upset, headaches, dizziness the list goes on. She came from a wealthy family who lived nearby, and had a very involved mother who continually jumped in to help ferrying her to one specialist after another, and stepping in to take over running her life at a moment’s notice.

Suggested but unconfirmed diagnoses included chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus and Crohn’s disease, among others. Over the few years that I knew her, her dog, and then her cat, developed chronic illnesses as well also mysterious and difficult to diagnose. She began looking into environmental toxins, allergies, and nutritional deficiencies for an explanation. As I got to know her better, I learned that she was involved in a relationship with a controlling and verbally abusive man and, as I watched her interaction with her mother, it seemed to me that her relationship with her family had left her feeling helpless, dependent and infantile feelings that were perpetuated by her romantic partnership.

A number of months passed, and when I reconnected with her, things had changed. She had broken up with the guy, had regained some of her physical health, was back in school, and working part time. I asked her what her doctors had eventually concluded, and she told me she was no longer seeing them, but was gradually feeling much better anyway. It seems that the stress of the relationship may have been the cause of her illness. She was also in therapy now, and learning to establish some boundaries with her family. And guess what? Her dog and cat were both symptom free as well.

This woman’s story is a powerful illustration of how emotionally sensitive animals are, and how connected to us is their own well-being. I have seen example after example of pets suffering from a dysfunctional family dynamic. Whenever we go through a major stress, a loss, or just a big change, we must remember to tend to the emotional health of our animal companions. Animals are closely bonded to their human families. Their physical senses are a thousand times more acute than ours, but they are also highly sensitive emotionally. Everyone who has had close relationships with non-humans has experienced their intuition and empathy regarding our states of mind the warm tongue on your hand when you’re feeling sad, the paw on your knee and questioning gaze when you’re upset, the worry and whining when mom and dad are arguing. When you’re happy, they’re happy and all is right with their world.

Animals have highly refined personalities. They can teach us how to be better people if we learn to pay attention to their responses. They can show us who we really are. It’s important to remember how affected they can be by our emotional storms, and to take care of them, as we would our children, spouses and friends, by recognizing their needs as the valuable, sensitive beings they are.

Training Tip: Never be emotionally abusive with your pets. Anger, irritation, impatience etc., are no more appropriate in dealing with animals than they are with humans, and are no more effective. Besides, do you really want to be the person who deals that way with others?

2009 The Pet Pro. All Rights Reserved.