I have been an animal lover all my life. As a child I brought home a whole menagerie of animals through the years. From baby rabbits to stray dogs, no creature was too small, too wild or too dirty for me to rescue. So when I came across this story on the web about a woman and her husband who rescue an orphaned baby rat from the alley behind their apartment, it really spoke to me.
It is clear that the author and her husband didn’t expect any thing from this baby rat, they just didn’t want to leave the little guy to die alone in the cold. When he survived, they expected to return him to the wild to live his life with his own kind. What they didn’t expect was how easily the little furry creature would insinuate himself into their lives, or that one little alley rat would change their lifestyle and teach them about empathy and altruism.
As a child though, my motives were not wholly altruistic. In fact they were down right selfish. I liked how being with the animals made me feel. I liked it when dog climbed into my lap to wash my face (I know, some of you are saying “eww”). I liked it when a baby rabbit or mouse nuzzled my hand because it trusted me; to them I meant warmth, safety and food. I liked having a kitten purring away on my lap like a buzz saw. The animals made me feel happy.
When I was in high school, my elderly, wheelchair-bound aunt lived in a nursing home close to my school. When my mom and I were visiting one day, one of the nurses brought in a litter of puppies. I can still see clearly the serene smile on my aunt’s face as she held one of the puppies on her lap. The little guy spent better than an hour snoozing on her lap. Experiences like these are not new; as early as World War II, there are records of patients responding to a visit from a dog. In this case it was a tiny Yorkshire terrier who belonged to a soldier who was in the medical ward (1). In the United States, the training and use of therapy dogs began in the mid-1970s, and has now expanded to include animals as small as birds and as big as horses. Training, handling, playing with, caring for or just petting animals can have a tremendous positive affect on people (2).
Those of us who have owned pets don’t need research to tell us that pets are good for us. We know from first-hand experience. Our furry (or scaled or feathered) friends have seen us through bad days, miserable colds and personal tragedy. Although we often see ourselves as rescuing them (as in the case of Mr. T the orphaned alley rat) the truth is, they rescue us and we don’t even realize it.
- Wynne, William A. “Yorkie Doodle Dandy: 4 Pound Yorkshire Terrier Hero of World War II”, Book. http://www.amazon.com/Yorkie-Doodle-Dandy-William-Wynne/dp/0965225402
- Animal Assisted Therapy in Mental Health”]. The SCAS Journal. 2010. Retrieved 10/18/2012; PDF