The Healing Therapy of Pets for Children

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”

– Martin Buber

When we lived in our former home, T and I would enjoy early Saturday morning walks in the park. At around 9, a group of regulars would gather with their dogs and T would never be shy or afraid about going up to pet them.

One time, he got so excited to be amongst the dogs that when one of the owners threw a ball and yelled, “Catch,” T screamed excitedly, “I got it!” He bolted out into the field, while the half dozen dogs stood and watched him chase the ball.

There is a lot written about the therapeutic powers of animals for children, including those with special needs, in helping them overcome challenges, regulate their emotions, stay safe, and to learn about friendship and social behaviour.

I see this on a regular basis when T and I go for our walks. Whenever a dog comes around, T gets very excited. But I also see a genuine kindness and care. His voice softens, he pets the dog gently and he even tries to kiss them.

Most of the time, I don’t get scared of the dogs harming T; in fact, it’s often the opposite. I worry that he’ll get over excited and aggravate the dog, like pull his tail.

My hubby and I have been together for 17 years – this Sunday! – and we’ve had a long history of pets. In 2005, we adopted a cat named Harley and six months later, his childhood cat kittyboi moved from the East Coast to live with us. They passed away long before T was born.

The summer before T entered our lives, when we had just about given up on adoption working out for us, we adopted two young cats, a bonded pair named Kyrie and Lanaya.

The two cats were the centre of our home life and then T came along and shook everything up. Little did the cats know during the early days – pictured below – that T would be a long-term tenant.

I often feel guilty that we don’t spend as much time with the cats these days. They are often hiding in the basement when T is awake, because his loud and hyperactive nature – stomping his feet, chasing after them – does not mesh well with their calm and subdued personality.

We always coach T to be gentle and calm around them and to tell him that although he means well and is just trying to be playful, his approach scares his fur siblings.

Truth be told, T would be really well suited for a therapy dog. If we didn’t have Kyrie and Lanaya already, we’d consider a therapy dog for T. But it wouldn’t be fair to our dear cats to add another member to the family.

But life is a journey and we all grow every day. And it’s such a pleasure to see T grow in his skills to relate to others, including his fur siblings.

One recent Sunday, as I was cooking in the kitchen, I heard T call out to sweet but skittish Kyrie. And I poked my head out to see what was going on.

Instead of his usual loud and hyperactive approach, T sat down on the stairs and called to Kyrie calmly. Kyrie reluctantly stayed at the top of the stairs, eyeing T apprehensively.

We’ve taught T the best approach is to stick your fist out and offer it to the cat to smell. So he did that.

I expected him to rev from 0 to 60. But I watched him slowly go to the top step and sit down.

“Hi Kyrie,” T said gently and Kyrie slowly came to sniff his hand and even allowed T to pet his head and arched back. At one point, the arch in his back – a sign cats are scared or threatened – relaxed.

It was a nice heartwarming moment to witness.

T with our friends’ dog at a bbq hosted at their home.

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