People find inspiration and peace with their animal friends.
By L. CROW
The Humane Society of the United States says that 63 percent of U.S. households own a pet.
There are 65 million owned dogs and 77.6 million owned cats, they say, not to mention reptiles, birds, fish, horses, and all sorts of furry, feathered, and scaly friends. While some people own animals for reasons other than companionship, the trends in the pet industry show us that we love and pamper our non-human family members.
The American Pet Product Manufacturing Association says that many hotels are now catering to pets, offering services such as a check-in gift pack with treats and toys, and even a licensed doggie masseuse.
For the millions of us who love animals, these statistics come as no surprise. We can't imagine what our lives would be like without animals. Research has shown that people with pets deal with stress easier, have less depression, lower rates of heart disease, and lower blood pressure.
But the healing power of animals in our lives often goes beyond simple enrichment and well-being. Many people in the area have incredible stories to share about how an animal literally saved their life, or enabled them to get beyond a catastrophic situation.
Tracey Nix, formerly of Boardman, now living in Park City Utah, says that her horse was her lifesaver when her life was falling apart. She bought him in 2001, when her life seemed to be a dream-come-true. She had been hired by the airline of her choice, and just married the man she said was "the love of my life."
In April 2002, her husband died of cancer, and three days later, Nix was laid off from her job, the result of the September 11, 2001 tragedy.
"My life came to a halt," she said. "It was easy to stay in bed with the covers over my head. Depression and shock were with me always. I became numb to the world. Then guilt crept in. It first started with my cat. He would put his paw on my nose and stare at me as if to say, 'get up, the sun's been up for hours and it's time to feed me.' Then the guilt of wasting my day feeling sorry for myself, and not spending time with my horse hit me. I hardly had energy to go see him, let alone go for a ride, but he had a way of looking at me that told me we needed to spend some time in the mountains. He was right. We went for a lot of rides and I began to feel better. I began to feel again and see the beauty of the mountains, and of my life. My horse had become my healer and he still listens to my thoughts."
Nix's mother, Nancy Ventresco of Leetonia, is a dog agility trainer at Youngstown All Breed Training Club (YABTC) in North Jackson, which includes obedience, hurdles, tunnels, and a "dog walk," plus tracking, laying a scent track, training dogs to find a missing person or helping law enforcement. She also takes her therapy dogs to area hospitals and nursing homes.
But she has some stories of personal healing in her own life, too. "My Cardigan Welsh Corgis have been the catalyst to begin the healing process from the grief of losing a beloved friend," she said. "They reminded me that they also lost a friend, but life is for the living. They seemed to say, 'come celebrate life with us.'"
Ventresco's colleague Marilyn Cerny, of Palmyra, in addition to training at YABTC, also tests and registers dogs for therapy through Therapy Dogs, Inc., one of the three major therapy dog registration groups in the U.S.
"There is no special training for therapy dogs," she said. "But the dog must pass the equivalent of 'Canine Good Citizen,' be calm, friendly, have their shots and license, and do what they're told. Sometimes I suggest they go through obedience training. After they are registered, I accompany them and their owner to a hospital or nursing home to further instruct them. For instance, when approaching a wheelchair, the dog must go to the side, not the front." Cerny lives with seven dogs, two of which she works with therapy. She covers Tod Children's Hospital, and many area nursing homes, like Austin Woods and Autumn Hills.
"At the hospital the dogs only stay a few minutes with each child, but often that is enough to distract them from their pain, and change tears to a smile," she said. Cerny is also a Karuna Reiki Master, and has attuned her dogs for Reiki. "That way, when someone touches the dog, they are receiving Reiki," Cerny added.
And Cerny had her own healing miracle through her chocolate lab, Treasure. As they were playing, Treasure butted her right breast. "It was very painful and remained sore. I was then able to feel the lump, and found out I had stage three breast cancer. If it weren't for Treasure, I don't know when I would have found it."
Some people have some real tear-jerkers to tell. Kathy Taleos, of Mineral Ridge, lost her precious lab, Abby two days after the September 11, 2001 tragedy. Then her lab Midas was diagnosed with cancer the following February. On March 17, her mother died unexpectedly, and her father became ill shortly after.
"I was on emotional, spiritual and physical overload, and my black lab, Jet stepped up to become a source of solace and healing," she said. "He helped me cope with my sorrow with his steadfast devotion to me. He would lay his big head in my lap and I would feel the love and adoration shining in his warm brown eyes. He accepted my emotions no matter what they were, but his nature has always been one of happiness. He would become the clown, gathering up several things in his mouth, showing me his treasures, all the while wiggling with glee. How could I not smile and feel better at those antics? He became what I needed to heal from all the sorrow, my port in the storm. His presence is a gift, and his unconditional love and devotion gives me a sanctuary from all the troubles and worries of life."
XLaughing Crow is a practitioner of holistic healing. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org