The Healing Touch of an Animal

One of my most distinct early memories is of being perhaps four years old and feeling heartbroken.

Perhaps I was upset at one of my siblings, or my mother had answered “no” to something I wanted; I don’t remember the cause of my pain.  What I do remember clearly is the strong emotion of childhood: feeling as though no one cared about me, that I was utterly alone, and that no one in my family understood how I felt.

My instinctive response to this overwhelming mood was to go outside, sit on the edge of our backdoor cement porch, and tell my problems to Stripe, my young gray tabby cat with white paws and chest.

I  held her on my lap, stroked her sleek fur as she purred, and I wept.

She seemed to listen, looking into my face and occasionally blinking her green eyes.

I believe we are designed to interact with and be calmed by animals, what writer-naturalist Henry Beston called our “fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” 

Contact comfort is the term for the touch which infants need in order to thrive.  It seems to me that in addition to the touch of our family, friends, loved ones, we also continue to need the touch of animals.  We have a tactile nature; we were built to use our sense of touch, designed with an enormous network of nerve endings and touch receptors.

Not only am I comforted each time I pet my cat today, she is in turn comforted by me.  The photo above shows her pleasure in my touch.  If I ignore her when she rolls on her back in the garden for a tummy rub, she’ll tap me on the leg with a soft paw as a reminder she wants her massage.

My nine-year-old friend Lexi both calms and is calmed by her touch on Hollywood’s face:

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And our cat thanks my husband for his comfortable lap and gentle touch as she licks his hand:

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Our connection with animals eases the travail and increases the wonder of living on this earth.    Indeed, as French writer Anatole France said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Writing Practice:

Complete the following:  My connection with ________________  eases __________________.

Describe an early childhood memory, perhaps a time when you felt heartbroken or a time when you felt exhilarated.

8 thoughts on “The Healing Touch of an Animal

  1. There were so many chidhood and teen times I sobbed into the necks of my dogs — my partners and constant companions– that they all blur. Wish I could tolerate having a dog for my crying times now. Thanks, Chris, for such a sharp memory and reminder of the power of touch. How do the Brits survive with so little of it?

    • Thank you, Jeanie. I love dogs as well. Another of my friends told me of a very difficult life experience during which she wept, and her dog actually cried tears as well as he sat beside her. I appreciate your reading and commenting!

  2. Another beautiful and thoughtful piece, Chris. Thank you for reminding me of why I miss my late and very Great Dane, Isis. I didn’t have pets growing up, but I helped care for a whole stable-full of horses, and they definitely heard a lot about my pain and anguish! These days, I get my dog-love from Little, the cattle dog at Ploughboy Local Market across the street. Hope to see you and Ron and your smart cat this summer sometime!

    • I hope to see you as well–and eat some more wonderful food from Ploughboy. I believe I remember Little, who, as I recall, is not so little. Thank you so much for your encouragement, Susan. 🙂

  3. I remember our red Irish setter who knew she was not allowed in the house slowly click down the hall to check on me because I was crying. She was afraid I would yell at her but she could not let me cry alone. I was so comforted by her and was grateful for her loving support

  4. I once had a horse named Feather. She was pregnant when I got her, so the only time we had spent together was grooming and such. I got a call that she was having her foal. When I got there, it was stillborn. The vet had taken the baby away already, so it was just me and Feather. She let me wash her and fuss over her. I didn’t have her for very long, because she was really high-strung and hard to manage. I will always remember that rare, peaceful moment where she decided to let me be her friend.

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