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Who Needs Therapy When You Have Pets

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By Cindy Tansin

People thought I was crazy when I expanded my family to two dogs and three cats in addition to my two teenagers. The funny thing is, the animals are the sanest part of my life. It's been fascinating watching them interact, and they've taught us all a lot. My relationships with the kids improved when the animals came to live with us. This is what they've taught me and how they have helped:

1. Cuddling is a great equalizer. There's nothing more satisfying and heartwarming than close contact. It gives an incredible feeling of security and bonding. The newest kitten turned all the animals into cuddlers, and we humans have softened because of it. It fosters a sense of trust and companionship like nothing else. It helps us to stop and simply enjoy life for a moment and reminds us to be grateful. The closeness we experience from cuddling has long lasting effects and has changed the whole dynamic of the household.

2. Sleeping with a companion makes for better sleep. We find great comfort in sleeping with one of our pack. We are able to relax more. Of course there are exceptions (i.e. bed hogging and blanket stealing ), but in most cases, we find it reassuring to feel that press in the bed next to us or the light touch on our arm or leg. I often find the animals sleeping in twos, and they are the picture of contentment. And how good is it for us humans to wake up in the night just enough to acknowledge the warm, furry body next to us and snuggle back in deeper.

3. Predictability is comfortable to us. We know what we like, and we fall into comfortable patterns. We have our favorite chairs, our favorite foods, and our favorite routines. Since we can't always control our work/school environment, we like our home environment to be just the way we like it. Developing predictable routines with and for our animals has been therapeutic for us. For example, morning walks have become meditative. When things are unpredictable and stressful, we all get a bit grumpy.

4. We need play time. When we're doing things that are fun, life is one big doggy park. Nobody can be serious all the time. That's why we hang out with friends, watch funny movies, make jokes, and keep things light. Everybody knows that one of the great attractors is "someone who makes me laugh." There's nothing more satisfying that seeing a dog smile and wag his tail, or having a cat rub against your leg for attention. Play with me, and I'll do the human equivalent. You can't dislike someone who makes you smile.

5. We have individual personalities (and quirks). We all have characteristics that are unique to us. Not all of those characteristics are considered positive. We're not perfect. The key is to understand, appreciate, and at worse tolerate the differences. As the song says, accentuate the positives; eliminate the negatives. Or as I have often said to my kids/pets when they give me heartburn, "You're lucky I love you."

6. We don't like to be told no. Animal behaviorists will tell you it's better to train with positive reinforcement. People hate being told no or being spoken to harshly. It's demoralizing, and over time it sucks the life out of you. So let go of the controls. Let your mate/kids make an occasional mess or make the decisions once in awhile. Do it because it makes them feel good. What an awesome partner/parent that would make you.

7. We need alone time -- and there is nothing wrong with that. Everybody has things they need or want to do -- just because. No two people like everything the same. Give each other regular breaks. If you give someone elbow room, they will enjoy being with you even more and look forward to your time together.

8. Finally, the more love you give, the more you get. This is the biggest lesson of all. Animals are incredibly loving. They will always one-up you when it comes to love. Same with us humans. We love to be loved, and when we are loved, boy do we give it back.

Who would have known that a bunch of stray animals could be so wise? But seeing this mixed group grow together to become a tightly knit family taught me a lot. Next time I'm feeling at odds with another human, I'm going to look to my animals to teach me a better way to behave to improve my relationship.

Cindy Tansin is author of the book Lead With Your Heart and the Rest will Follow. Her expertise is in developing strong thought leaders and community advocates. She is an author, speaker, writer, consultant, and coach who teaches personal and professional development. Follow her at www.cindytansin.com.

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