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Are you humans a rescue too?

An opinion piece on the role of animals in our lives
Dogs on the leash
An opinion piece on the role of animals in our lives.

A picture of two golden retrievers asking each other, "Is your human a rescue too?" that handy Facebook added to my feed last week made me pause for quite a while and rethink our roles in our relationships with pets.

Seriously, aren't all of us, pet owners, rescues?

I was sitting by the window and looking at my two big dogs playing outside, and I couldn't stop smiling. Neither of them was a rescue. We wanted to adopt a dog on several occasions, but so far, the timing wasn't working for us. Hopefully, one day. But even without that extra "feel good" that comes when you are taking a pet from the shelter, my two pooches bring so much joy into our lives that it's hard to fit it into any words.

Put it the other way, when I tried to imagine life without a dog for one day, the picture instantly turned black and white.

They are masters at getting into trouble, but also real pros in getting out of it by just giving me a look filled with love, loyalty and a bit of trickiness. Their happiness when they see me is irreplaceable. Their love is something that makes even a tough day, when my energy level sits at zero by the time I come crawling home, more bearable.

Cats in that sense are different. Most of them are here to be loved, fed and left alone at all times outside the moments when they want to interact (at least that's what I heard). Nevertheless, they also make our lives much brighter, happier and cozier. When they purr, it feels that the air fills with joy. And they are here, next to us, even if they are not up for physically interacting all the time like dogs.

We humans are made to be touched. We need to cuddle, we need hugs, we need to shake hands and tap each other on the shoulder. We hold it together until someone wraps their hands around us or puts a hand on our shoulder, and then we break down, finally allowing ourselves to release some negative emotions, as those touches mean safety and trust.

In that sense, the pandemic put all of us into a terrible touch deficit, and for many people, it was really difficult. New York-based psychologist Guy Winch, Ph.D., says the benefits of touches, which are way less present in many people's lives than before the pandemic, are not only emotional and social but also physical. Touches can reduce pain and stress, and improve our general sense of wellbeing.

And we don't have the luxury of having such needed touches in the times of spread of the highly-contagious virus.

I don't think I fully understood how much dogs mean and do for me before the pandemic. During the first lockdown, they would obediently bow their heads so I could put a collar on and take them for another 100th walk. I would cuddle with them, or just sit side by side, and watch a sunset. They took it all and were there for me all the time, and we made it through, still sane and happy. And I know I was one of the many who started valuing their pets even more over the last two years.

"Just being close to a furry animal has been shown to lower your stress, and reduce your heart rate and your blood pressure," says neuroscientist Helena Wasling, Ph.D., in her TED talk.

Your pets rely on you, which makes you feel needed and makes you show up for them even when things are tough.

Throughout these long months of the pandemic, there's been an increase in pet adoptions, and at least one study identified potential therapeutic benefits of the relationships between people and their pets when we are lacking our normal level of social interaction with other human beings.

I've always had pets, and I've always known that having a pet is a nice thing. But it was only last week that I looked at this relationship from the perspective of me actually being someone saved by my animals. Of course, they rely on me for food and shelter, but I heavily rely on them in so many other things that it'd be fair to say that they rescue me at least as much as I rescue them, especially during the last 23 months.

However, many animals are not given a chance to rescue a human when they are stuck at a shelter.

The Estevan Humane Society is overloaded with cats. They did their best and saved more than twice as many animals as the shelter can take. They’d be doomed otherwise in -35 C days. With just under 100 cats in their care, they dropped the adoption fee to only $30 ($150 regular!), which still includes sterilization and all age-appropriate vaccinations. They just want those cats to find a new home, allowing them to help other animals.

But considering everything said above, what they are doing is giving us a great incentive to allow those pets to come into our homes, join our families and rescue us, helping us cope with challenges life have been throwing at us for the last two years or even more. Don't miss that chance!