Ah, Christmas time – a season of joy and goodwill all around. Or is it? While the majority of people are very merry at Christmas, fully embracing the festive spirit, I couldn’t help but notice that there are still many atrocities and wrong-doings going on in the world, whether it’s Christmas or not. While they happen all year round, somehow it jars more than ever at this time of year with the message of peace, love, giving and acceptance.
We’re fortunate in our practice to come across many lovely people, day in, day out (and, of course, hundreds of lovely animals too). But sadly, there are many other people in the world who are not lovely … people whose intentions are evil, whose demeanour is negative, whose motivations are bad. In amongst the heart-warming tales, you hear on the news of people looking out for each other and doing good things, there are the heart-wrenching stories of the negative side of humanity. And then there are the people who are just a bit unkind and unpleasant towards other. The ‘Be Kind’ message hasn’t chimed with everyone yet. It struck me, during the season of goodwill, that there are lessons we could learn from animals, who often lead a much simpler, happier and more genuine existence.
Animals’ lives are free from the many complications that we humans have created, which test people’s morals and cloud judgement. They have many admirable qualities which we could all learn a thing or two from:
At the surgery, I treat many animals who have life-altering illnesses or injuries. For example, I’ve had to perform several amputations over the years but, after a brief period of adjustment to their new situation, animals invariably adapt and continue to live a happy, carefree life hopping around on three legs. Within a very short period of time, they’re acting like nothing has changed! Obviously, they don’t have quite the same complex depth of thoughts, reflection and emotions that humans have, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in the moment and be as happy and carefree as our pets?! The simplest things can fill them with joy and the most catastrophic things are shrugged off. What a way to live!
Now, be honest, at this time of year we all know that one person who is never happy with their Christmas present! No matter how hard you try, some people just can’t be pleased and you know that their present has to be accompanied by a gift receipt, so it can be swapped for whatever it was that they really wanted. Animals, on the other hand, are not materialistic at all! Pet shops are full of gimmicky gifts that you can buy for your pet, and there’s no judgement whatsoever if you want to treat your pet to a present or two, but be under no illusion – you’re buying it for you as much as you are for them! Animals have very simple and basic needs, and are entirely devoid of materialism. A cat is as happy playing with a ball of string or a toilet roll inner as they are with an expensive cat toy. Mostly, pets just want food, shelter and attention … they’re much easier to please than Auntie Pat!
We’ve all been let down by someone in the past, and it can really hurt. Animals, however, rarely let us down. Dogs especially tend to be unfalteringly loyal, and this trait is largely due to their strong survival instincts, a genealogical trait that has been bred into them over thousands of years of evolution. You, and your family, are their pack now – this way of living together is successful and they feel safe with you. They see it as being crucial to their survival so they will be loyal towards you and their human family to protect your collective way of life. Sometimes, their unfaltering loyalty results in really beautiful, humbling tales such as dogs waiting for their owners who have gone away or passed away, or those who remember owners and greet them with enthusiasm even after years of being apart.
But studies have suggested there’s more to this than just their instincts. Various scientific studies have attempted (largely successfully) to prove that dogs feel genuine emotional connections with their owners (go on, let’s call it love!). Analyses of dogs’ brain activity has shown the area of the brain associated with pleasure and enjoyment is stimulated when they see their owners. And, it seems, this connection isn’t limited to humans, either. Clive Wynne, professor of psychology at Arizona State University, who’s conducted research into the relationship between humans and ‘man’s best friend’ (as reported on Livescience.com) says that “Dogs are born with a remarkable capacity to form strong emotional connections with members of any species that they meet during the first three months of life.”, which explains the weird and wonderful inter-species animal friendships that sometimes emerge between animals who’ve been brought up together, such as dogs with cats, ducks, lambs, donkeys or even monkeys! Whoever they have these deep emotional attachments to, there’s no disputing the fact that they’re unfalteringly loyal.
Cats have a reputation for being more aloof, independent characters than their canine counterparts, but studies have shown that they’re loyal to their owners, too. Researchers from Oregan State University, as reported in The Independent, said this way of portraying cats as ‘distant’ was an “unfair myth” and their experiment proved a “secure attachment” when their human caregiver was present.
There are many, many tales of various species of animals who’ve been rescued from horrific conditions where they’ve experienced unspeakable trauma, being caged, abused, starved, beaten and injured by humans, and yet they’ve come to trust and forgive the human race once they’ve been rescued, going on to live full and happy lives with their new carers. I’ve seen it happen myself and it’s wondrous to witness that, when presented with genuine kindness, animals have an exceptional capacity for trust and forgiveness. Again, it’s something that some humans could learn from.
While animals will readily trust and forgive, they will also follow their instinctive reactions if they sense there’s something amiss. Whether it’s a person, another animal or a situation, animals are good at reading cues, body language, scents and other non-verbal clues that can alert them to possible threat or danger. While we humans (despite being the supposed ‘more intelligent’ species) can easily have the wool pulled over our eyes, animals are harder to fool. If a situation doesn’t feel right to them, they’re outta there! We’ve become accustomed to overruling or ignoring ‘gut feelings’ in favour of logical thinking or evidence, while animals trust their instinctive reactions unequivocally and this can often be their saviour.
While we spend so much of our live rushing around, animals are generally in no hurry at all. Have you ever tried to rush a dog on a walk when it’s busy having a good ol’ sniff? Or watched a lizard mooching around its vivarium? At this time of year especially, when life becomes a festive flurry and a whirlwind of non-stop activities, we could definitely take inspiration from animals and just Slow. Things. Down. A. Bit. Take it easy, take it in, take a breath.
This Christmas, let’s all take some inspiration from animals and go for a simple, happy festive season where all that matters is our basic needs are met and we’re with those who make us feel happy and safe. I can’t help but think we humans have overcomplicated things because, when it boils down to it, what more could we possibly need?! Let’s restore the season of goodwill!