26/08/23

Healing Hearts: Humans and Animals Helping to Heal Each Other

By: Bobbi Brink
Therapy dog visiting a young female patient in the hospital showcasing emotional healing healing trauma and stress relief

In a world marked by constant hustle and bustle, stress, and the challenges of modern living, the healing power of connections has never been more vital. One particularly heartwarming and scientifically supported association is the bond between humans and animals. Beyond their roles as pets, such as dogs and cats, animals have shown an incredible capacity to heal our hearts in ways that transcend the ordinary. In this article, we delve into the remarkable healing connection between humans and animals, focusing on how human-animal interactions can bring emotional, physiological, and cognitive benefits.

The Therapeutic Bond between Humans and Animals

The bond between humans and animals has long been recognized as an avenue for emotional and psychological support. Many can attest to the solace found in the company of a loyal dog, the soothing presence of a cat's purring, or the gentle nuzzle of a horse. Wild animals also hold the power to establish a therapeutic bond with humans, even those as majestic and awe-inspiring as lions, tigers, and bears. This connection taps into a primal and universal affinity between species, rooted in the shared life experience on Earth.

Studies have shown that spending time with animals can promote happiness and reduce stress.  Other studies found that animals can elevate mood, decrease loneliness and increase feelings of social support. In a world where stress-related health issues are on the rise, this discovery has profound implications for our overall well-being.

How Animals Help Humans Heal

Happy impaired teenager playing with his dog at home highlighting mental health healing trauma and stress relief benefits from animal human friendship

Animals can contribute to human healing on various levels, offering numerous seen and unseen benefits. Their presence and interactions can profoundly impact well-being, providing comfort and promoting overall health. Here's how animals can help humans heal.

Overcoming  Trauma and Challenges

The therapeutic effect of interacting with animals is particularly evident in individuals who have experienced trauma or challenging life events. Studies have demonstrated that time spent with animals can play a significant role in healing trauma. Whether through direct interactions with therapy animals such as dogs or cats, or engaging in activities at an animal sanctuary, the human-animal bond fosters a sense of safety, trust, and comfort. This bond can be instrumental in helping individuals gradually overcome emotional wounds and regain a sense of normalcy. Animals – especially those rescued from abuse or neglect – show people how to learn to trust again, heal from past traumas, and share that love and bond when they connect with the person.

Emotional Support

Domestic animals offer unconditional love, companionship, and a nonjudgmental presence that can be incredibly soothing. The act of petting a domestic animal, listening to its purring or rhythmic breathing, and feeling its warmth can trigger the release of oxytocin—the hormone associated with bonding and stress reduction. This emotional connection fosters comfort and security, making animals invaluable companions during distress,  loneliness, or sadness. Researchers have discovered that not only do people experience a surge in oxytocin when they gaze into the eyes of dogs, but the same result occurs when they look at exotic animals.

Stress Relief and Mental Health Enhancement

The unseen benefits of spending time with animals extend to stress relief and the enhancement of mental health. Research has consistently shown that animal interactions trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding and reduces stress. Petting a dog or observing the graceful movements of a cheetah or lion can induce feelings of calmness, lower blood pressure, and ease anxiety.

Mood Enhancement

Animals have the power to lift spirits and improve mood. Spending time with animals triggers the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play essential roles in regulating mood and pleasure. This can be especially beneficial for individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, or mood disorders.

Empathy and Social Skills

Interacting with animals cultivates empathy development and social skills. Caring for animals encourages individuals to consider the needs of another living being, fostering qualities of compassion and understanding. This empathy extends to interactions with fellow humans, promoting healthier relationships and improved emotional intelligence.

How Humans Help Animals

Young adult man adopting adorable dog in animal shelter showcasing stress relief mental health and therapeutic benefits

Just as animals provide therapeutic benefits and emotional healing to humans, humans can be crucial in healing animals, particularly those in vulnerable or challenging situations. Here's how humans can make a positive impact on animals:

Animal Welfare

Humans are responsible for ensuring animals' welfare in various contexts, from domestic pets to animals in captivity. Providing proper care, nutrition, shelter, and medical attention ensures that animals live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Supporting an Animal Sanctuary

Sanctuaries provide safe havens for animals that have been rescued from abusive or neglectful situations. By supporting sanctuaries like Lions Tigers & Bears through donations, volunteering, or spreading awareness, humans directly contribute to the well-being and care of these animals. The contributions create a ripple effect that extends far beyond the sanctuary's fences, touching lives in ways unseen yet deeply felt.

Conservation Efforts

Humans play a critical role in conserving and protecting animal species and habitats. Efforts to combat habitat destruction, poaching, and climate change are essential for preserving biodiversity and preventing the extinction of vulnerable species.

Stories Where Human-Animal Interaction Led to Profound Healing

At Lions Tigers & Bears, we have witnessed the transformative power of shared love for animals, which fosters profound connections of compassion and generosity among people. It takes a special individual to offer their attention, time, and energy to aid animals, and this commendable trait reflects their character, extending far beyond our sanctuary and into their communities.

In 2019, one of our devoted volunteers, Kenny, faced a devastating situation when his wife, Vicki, was diagnosed with kidney failure. For two years, Vicki endured ten hours of dialysis each day, with no guarantees as she waited on a transplant list. In a heartfelt plea posted on the Lions Tigers & Bears bulletin board, Kenny received three responses. One response came from our very own team member, Kathleen, who turned out to be a perfect match. In a remarkable act of kindness, Kathleen selflessly donated her kidney to Vicki, determined to save her life. The transplant procedure was a success, and today, Vicki is fully recovered and living a healthy, fulfilling life. This incredible journey began with a common connection to animals, demonstrating that animals not only offer therapeutic help to humans mentally and physically but also have the power to bring people together in support of each other.

At Lions Tigers & Bears, we celebrate the incredible bond between humans and animals, recognizing how it can inspire extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion. Our community stands as a testament to the profound impact of this connection, reminding us that when we come together, we can create miracles and change lives for the better.

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