I wasn’t always a cat person.
My affection for felines began when our son was 6 and my wife announced, “He needs a cat.”
My wife was an only child and had a special bond with her cats. Our son is an only child, and my wife felt it would be beneficial for him, too. When we told him we were going to get him a cat, he was so happy he burst into tears. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the human-animal bond, including its relevance for our values.
And, by the way, did you know that sharing our lives with animals yields health benefits?
We looked for a breed that was sociable, gentle, quiet and companionable—settling on Birmans, known as the Sacred Cats of Burma. From the moment we got the cat, I observed the evolution of a boy-cat bond that supports what biologist Marc Bekoff writes in his latest book, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation. This book is a remarkable collection of Bekoff’s columns from Psychology Today about the latest research into animals, their psychological and emotional lives, and human attitudes toward animals.
One thing I’ve learned, for example, is that a cat can get depressed. We saw that whenever we went on a trip and had someone stop in regularly to feed the cat. Sociable animals need companions and we realized that our responsibility was to provide one. So, we got a second Birman, half-brother to the first, and the depression never reappeared.
Our animal companions also produce benefits for our emotional and physical well-being. Bekoff cites a 10-year study with the astonishing conclusion that having cats helps prevent death from heart attacks! “Those who owned a cat were 40 percent less likely to die from heart attacks than those who had no feline in their lives,” he writes, summarizing the study.
Do dogs have the same effect? They don’t, according to the study. Dogs, of course, have other beneficial effects on our lives.
What have you learned from your animal companions?
Are you surprised to learn that cats reduce death from heart attacks?
What benefits have you observed?
Want to learn more about Marc Bekoff’s work?
ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Marc about his new book and this emerging field of research in this week’s cover story.