It has become increasingly clear to me that our pets are entirely tuned into every aspect of our emotional lives. They know when we’re happy and when we’re sad. They know what kind of day we’ve had the minute we walk in the door. They know when something is bothering us and when we’re completely at peace with ourselves and our world. We may think we successfully hide our fears, stresses and anxieties from our furry friends. But that’s simply not possible. Our pets have an intense natural ability to connect their emotional lives to ours. They are capable of intertwining themselves into all aspects of our lives. They do this without thinking, without hesitation and without judgement. Mother animals don’t teach their puppies, kittens, foals, etc. how to live and connect with their human families. It’s as natural to them as breathing, eating and sleeping.
There are pets that aren’t particularly warm or even interested in their human’s love, affection or whereabouts. Cats can give the impression that they don’t care if their humans are home or not. They might sit on mama’s lap one day and then ignore her for the rest of the week. Cats tend to be extremely independent. They can sometimes seem oblivious of the other members of their household. But if I was to talk with this independent kitty, she would be able to tell me the “temperature” in her family’s home. “Miss Fluffy” could describe for me in great detail the argument that mama and daddy had today as well as how she feels about the loud voices and harsh words. She could also tell me about the loving, tender looks she sees mama give daddy and how she much prefers this household over the one in which everyone is mad. If an independent kitty who acts like she can take or leave an interaction with her family reacts this strongly to her loved ones emotional upheavals, imagine how a dependent pet such as the family dog handles similar circumstances.
Dogs can look at their owner’s faces and know immediately when something is wrong. And because our dogs love us so much and with such abandon, they react to our pained expressions by trying to help us feel better. Some dogs go so far as to take on their human’s sadness and anxiety so as to relieve their emotional burden. These dogs can become sick from the stress of carrying their owner’s baggage. Many times I’ve been asked to talk with dogs who’ve developed a mysterious illness. Their veterinarians are stumped as to what’s causing “Bing” to be sick. Every test that’s been done has had negative results. Every physical examination has been normal. And yet “Bing” doesn’t eat, he’s losing weight, he vomits twice each day and he’s losing his fur. During our conversation, “Bing” tells me that mama and daddy fight all the time. Mama cries a lot and daddy looks sad. “Bing’s” response to this situation is to take on these bad feelings in order to help his family get better. In the course of carrying all of this emotional baggage, “Bing” becomes physically ill. “Bing” is the kind of dog that knows what he’s doing. But not all dogs do. There are some who unwittingly take on their human’s emotional turmoil. They aren’t aware of what they’re doing, they just know they don’t like what’s going on with their families. Either way, if a dog shoulders and absorbs ill feelings from his family members, the stress of dealing with these emotions might cause him to become physically, mentally or emotionally ill. A dog could also develop behavioral problems that completely stump the family.
Of course there are dogs who react to their humans’ sadness, anger and anxiety by simply being curious…they are aware that something is wrong with mama and daddy but they aren’t sure what it is or what to do about it. Hearing mama and daddy argue with each other might scare them, but they don’t let that fear control them. They continue to eat, sleep, play and stay ever alert for that possible treat.
Our pets know us. They pay attention to us and then react to the stress and anxiety they see in our faces and feel in our bodies. We need to be ever vigilant of the depth of this reaction so that we can keep our furry friends from shouldering what is ultimately our responsibility.
Blessings to you and your furry friends.