Animal Therapy.

When I was little, we didn’t have any pets. It wasn’t until I was almost 14 years old that we visited some friends who had the cutest little dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Monday (I LOVE this name for a dog), and I saw something in my dad that I hadn’t seen before. I felt something change.

Prior to this visit, he hadn’t shown any kind of interest or affection toward anyone else’s animals. He’d ignored them at best and complained about them, at worst. He hadn’t grown up with animals either (other than a temperamental rabbit who used to bite him!) and so he was the kind of dad who made it very clear that we would not be getting a pet. Period.

But on this warm, summer afternoon visiting with some old friends, it was like he fully relaxed and felt happy to watch their little pup run around and play. We all laughed so easily and comfortably and I can still remember the trees in their backyard swaying in the wind and the sun shining through them while Monday kept us all entertained on the lawn.

It was a joyful day for our family.

On the car ride home, we all talked about how cute the little pup was and I begged, “please, please can we get one??!!”, entirely expecting to receive the same response my dad had always given, “We don’t need a dog in the house.”

To my utter surprise and delight, on this particular summer afternoon when I was almost 14 years old, my dad said the word that every child loves to hear; he said, “maybe”.

Every kid knows that “maybe” simply means they need to work a little harder on getting to the “yes”, but that the “yes” is dangling there, like a carrot, and all we need is a little time and effort, and, in this case, a little research.

So, I got to work. I knew I needed to make things happen quickly before my dad had a chance to change his mind, so as soon as we walked into the house, I raced toward the kitchen drawer where we kept the phone book, grabbed the 2 pound block of yellow pages, and ran up to my room. I began searching madly under “dog breeders”, praying I’d find someone who bred Cavaliers near our area.

To my utter shock and delight, I found one within an hour of our home. I went into my parents’ bedroom and picked up the phone. When the woman answered, I asked if she had any puppies for sale. In her British accent, she told me that she only bred “show dogs”, but that she had two that she was willing to sell to the right family. “One bitch and one stud.” Pause. “A boy and a girl.”

OMG OMG OMG!!!

I told her I would talk to my parents and call her back. The rest is a bit of a blur. I know I ran downstairs and told my parents that there was a breeder with 2 puppies and that we could arrange to meet them. I’m sure there was a lot of me saying things like, “It can’t hurt to look!” and “Let’s just go and see them!”, knowing full well that these were famous last words.

But I also knew that my parents were both open to it because they didn’t shoot the idea down, and my mother must have called the breeder and set up the appointment, because within days, we were there, in the breeder’s living room, looking at a pile of the most adorable little puppies I have ever seen.

The little boy was climbing all over the place and being cute and funny, rolling and playing and trying to engage the other pups. The little girl sat on a pillow, looking over at the rest of the group as if to say, “I don’t think you’re supposed to be doing that” and “I’ll just sit over here and behave myself”, which was exactly why my mother decided that she would be the one to come home with us.

Success! It was really happening!!

We all tossed around names and my parents came up with “Chelsea”, to pay homage to the breed’s royal descent and we’d also visited the area in west London when we lived in the UK years prior. We picked her up a few days later after my mother chose a nice white crate and a few toys. On the drive home, I got to hold her in my arms, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

We got a dogggg!!!!

I was over the moon excited.


Cavalier puppy

We enjoyed that little pup more than I can put into words. She made us smile and laugh...a lot. But Cavaliers are prone to having heart issues, and, sadly, we had to say goodbye to little Chelsea after she succumbed to congenital heart failure, only 8 years after joining our family. But the joy and fun she brought to our lives in the short time she lived could never be forgotten. In fact, she wasn't my dog at all...she was my parents' dog through and through. As much as I'd beg her to come and sleep in my bed or hang out with me, she'd inevitably hop off my bed or the couch and back with my mom and dad.

She was their baby.

And she was pure love.

Chelsea, Age 6.

And that, to me, is the point of having a pet. To bring joy and laughter and love into the home when things can otherwise be stressful and hard and frustrating. I'm not suggesting that having a pet means that life is all of a sudden sunshine and roses and I also realize that taking care of an animal isn't easy, nor should it be taken lightly, because it is a TON of work (again, it was my parents who shouldered almost all of the responsibility where Chelsea was concerned), but having a pet is shown to calm and relax us as well as lift our mood.

Did you know that dogs have been domesticated for 30,000 years? 

For THIRTY THOUSAND YEARS, dogs have been "man's best friend" and across history, there have been countless stories of dogs even saving people's lives. I am partial to dogs, for sure, but ALL animals can help us to feel better. Research shows that children who suffer with anxiety or depression immediately feel better when an animal is nearby. And animals are so intuitive, that they often seek out the person in need of comfort, in an effort to ease their pain.

Having an animal can also teach children responsibility. I took Chelsea for walks, although she wasn't much of a walker (Cavaliers were bred to be feet warmers for Royalty and it seems that old habits die hard!), and I did have to pick up her poop now and then, but truthfully, my mother took care of that little girl so well that there was very little left for any of us to do.

And I think they both liked it that way.

For me, having a dog in our home was simply joyful. She made everything...better.

Recently, I met a woman who expressed that getting a dog helped change the climate in the home. She has two daughters, and the teenager can often be moody. She used to come in and throw her knap-sac down and stomp up the stairs, barely grunting a hello, but now, the pup comes sliding around the corner, tail wagging, mouth open and can't wait to greet the girl, who can't resist laughing and playing with the pint-sized pup. Smiling, laughing and petting an animal releases feel-good hormones and decreases the stress hormone, cortisol. In more ways than one, animals are good for our health.

And as we know from extensive research and my interview with Ryan Theriault, founder of Tranquil Acres, horses are incredibly intuitive and can help us work through our issues and lead a healthier lifestyle through their ability to sense our feelings and act as a massive bio-feedback tool.

There are even therapists who are including animals in their work with patients. According to Dr. Alexandra Segal, a therapist here in Ottawa and the founder of Therapy Unleashed, "Research has provided additional insight on the role dogs play in Psychotherapy. Indeed, the presence of a dog has been shown to lead to physiological changes indicative of a reduction in stress (Beck & Katcher). Petting a dog has been shown to increase oxytocin and dopamine levels in both the human doing the petting and the dog receiving the petting. Humans have the added benefit of a decrease in cortisol levels (Odendall & Meintjes)." Dr. Segal sees patients both with and without her therapy dog, Pavlov.

Roger and I don't own a pet. We live in a condo, and I feel even small dogs need a little more space. And I am allergic to most cats, plus I can't do the kitty litter thing...not in an apartment. We have considered a bunny, but I'm not sold on the idea. Neither one of us feel drawn to fish or reptiles, hamsters, rats or guinea pigs. We aren't always home and we travel a lot, so right now doesn't feel like the right time to invest in an animal.

In the meantime, we have been receiving "animal therapy" in various forms to ease our stress, inject some playfulness into our lives, and provide an escape from the day-to-day pressures we all face. I wanted to share some of the ways we do this with the hope that it may inspire you to seek out an animal connection in your own life!

Siberian Kitten

Until they closed last month, we had become frequent visitors of the Siberian Cat Café  in Chelsea, Quebec. Their 8 Siberian cats were long-haired little cuties that were also hypoallergenic, so I was able to pet and cuddle them. During a very busy time in our lives last year preparing for our first wellness expo, we'd leave our phones behind, visit the café for a few hours, and enjoy a latté while watching those adorable munchkins run around and play. It was incredibly therapeutic and provided us with a much-needed re-charge. We are both heartbroken that they closed, but it's put me on a mission to find other animals in the Ottawa area that we can enjoy. For those of you who live near me, here are some suggestions if you, too, don't own pets and need a little animal therapy!

Feline Cafe - All of the cats here are rescues from the humane society and are available for adoption. Your time is limited with the cats, especially during peak times, but it is a fun way to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee! Note that this cafe is vegan so you won't get milk or cream in your coffee, but they offer almond, soy or coconut milk.

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum - This educational and fun working farm is open all year long and there are several animals to meet and enjoy. Horses (including the Canadian horse, mainly bred for use in the Musical Ride), dairy cows, pigs, chickens, bees and more are available for learning about and enjoying. We took my niece and nephew there recently and fell in love with the baby calves and piglets!

Little Ray's Reptile Zoo - Little Ray's is such a fun and interactive zoo to visit! According to the website, "Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo has one of the largest and most diverse animal education and outreach programs in Canada. We pride ourselves on providing the most hands on, educational zoological visit to all our guests. Expect to spend an average of 1 1/2 to 2 hours in order to see and do all that the zoo has to offer. We have 25 permanent animal exhibits featuring some of the most famous reptiles in the world, as well as 20 feature animal exhibits that rotate every 6 months."

The Zoo Crew - We are such big fans of what The Zoo Crew does that we featured them at our Healthy Brain and Body Show in April! We were thrilled to see so many kids and adults interacting with the animals. According to their website, "The Zoo Crew is an animal education company that combines entertainment and learning to create an exciting experience that will be remembered! Committed to nurturing the human-animal bond, The Zoo Crew offers a range of services for animal lovers of all ages." Hire the zoo crew to come to your child's birthday party, request to have them visit your kids' school, or have them visit your elderly loved one's facility.

Big Sky Ranch Animal Sanctuary - I surprised Roger with this hidden gem near Ottawa last weekend. This amazing place is open year round and houses all sorts of animals who have been neglected or are unwanted. We enjoyed the many cats and dogs running around as well as a 3,000 pound bison, 900 pound pigs, several cows, horses, miniature horses, donkeys, llamas, emus, chickens, goats and sheep. Most of the animals are able to be adopted but, in the meantime, it is wonderful to see how well they are taken care of at the sanctuary. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. It's near Kemptville, so about a 40 minute drive from downtown Ottawa. They also appreciate any volunteer help, so this might be a great field trip for students or a feel-good activity for families on weekends.

Valley View Little Animal Farm - This little farm right in Ottawa (Nepean) is open spring through fall and is a great place for kids and adults alike. The farm boasts birds, alpacas, goats and geese.  There is even a train for touring, a children's playground and a museum to learn about our agricultural past. You can watch a puppet show, have lunch in the Sunflower Café and browse in Robyn's Nest Gift Shop. I haven't been to this farm, but we plan to when they re-open in the spring.

John Cundell Stable -  Did you know there were horse stables right in the ByWard Market?! The Ottawa Citizen featured the stables back in 2014 and wrote the following: "John Cundell is a third-generation horseman who operates the last stable in Lowertown (113 York Street; 613-241-8054). Ask him to tell tales of how the city used to be, when horses – not automobiles – ruled. Take a romantic evening carriage ride with your special someone while Cundell drives his team of gentle Belgians from ByWard Market to the Parliament Buildings. Or, take a wagon ride through Lowertown and New Edinburgh." Roger and I thought we could just pop in, but when we went over there on Sunday, the gate was locked. I suggest calling ahead to see if they are open and welcoming visitors.

Pet Expo: The Ottawa pet expo is coming this weekend to The EY Centre! When I googled other cities, I noticed that there are several pet expos happening all over, throughout the year, so find one near you and have fun! Most allow you to bring your pet, but require you to fill out a waiver beforehand. I haven't been before, but the show looks jam packed with exhibits and animals you can connect with. For the Ottawa show, tickets are $15 but you can save by ordering online. I also received a promo code from Rogers, ROGERSPET10, so feel free to use it and save even more. 🙂

Visits with friends: You can always enjoy a little cuddle time if you have friends or family who own pets. Or, you may want to offer to walk your neighbour's dog (this could be a good part-time job for teenagers) or perhaps offer to pet-sit when friends or family go out of town. This might give you a sense of what it would be like to own one (my niece took care of guinea pigs this summer and learned a lot about responsibility and their behaviour).

The Ottawa Humane Society - And if you are serious about getting a pet (because it might be hard to leave without one!), adopting an animal from the humane society is a wonderful way to go.

For those who don't live in Ottawa-Gatineau, I encourage you to seek out places where you can get a little cuddle time or some exposure to animals. A quick google search of "animals in (your area)" might help or else search "animal sanctuary" in your neck of the woods. Or perhaps you have farms outside your city limits that welcome visitors.

The Bottom Line

The energy of an animal is unlike any other. They allow us to be our true selves because they have no judgment. They don't criticize or argue. They are simply there to be who they are and they encourage us to do the same. Plus, as we talked about, petting an animal is good for our health!

Being able to relax into our true nature, in the energy of animals, has made an incredibly positive impact on my life and I hope you, too, give animal therapy a try if you also don't own pets.

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.

P.S. Do you have any suggestions for animal therapy here in the Ottawa area that I've missed? Please share with us below!

P.P.S. Do YOU have a pet? Do you feel that your animal helps keep you calm and less stressed? What are some suggestions or advice you can offer those who don't already own a pet? What are the pros? The cons? I appreciate any advice you have to help Roger and me with this life-changing decision!

P.P.P.S. Speaking of our health, on April 21 & 22, 2018, Roger and I, along with our team, are hosting The Healthy Brain and Body Show for the second year. We are so pumped to bring this show back even bigger and better! We would love to see you there as an attendee, where we will have so much cool stuff to show you. We can't wait to explore, connect, learn and shop at the show WITH you! Please say hello if you come. Roger and I will both be there the entire weekend. It would be a thrill to meet you. 🙂

And if you--or someone you know--might be interested in being an Exhibitor with us, feel free to send them here where they can view/download the Exhibitor/Sponsor Package. Note that we have SOLD OUT of Sponsorship spots and we are over 50% sold out of booths!

We can't WAIT to serve you, so remember to save the date! 

P.P.P.S. Let’s be friends! I’d love to connect on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram. Plus, if you haven’t already subscribed to my blog, you should! That way, you won’t miss anything. For joining, you get my personal meal plan, shopping list, and a week’s worth of easy, tasty recipes. http://sarahtalksfood.com/

 

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