Rescue Pets – the Mental Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

One day back in 2014, one of my sergeants asked me if I wanted a kitten. I was tempted. I had always been a cat person and one of my two cats had passed away not long before, having succumbed to a stomach tumour at the respectable age of 15.  But the death of Dr Evil hit me hard and I wondered if I was ready to take on another cat.

Still, I was curious. My sergeant, who I had always found to be a rather gruff, slightly intimidating, no-nonsense kind of guy, told me he was a foster-carer for his local vet clinic, housing and caring for any abandoned cats that were handed in, just until they found their forever-home. If that wasn’t enough to make my heart melt, he then went on to tell me he’d recently taken in three little orphaned kittens.

The next thing I knew, I was driving over to the eastern suburbs with my niece and nephews, “just to have a look”. Fortunately, we just happened to have a pet carrier with us. Half an hour later, we were driving home with a beautiful little addition to the family, who I soon named Knightley.

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Knightley is the name of the main male character from the Jane Austen novel, Emma. As an Austen hero, I always preferred Knightley to Darcy because unlike Darcy, he didn’t have to go through any transformation to become a good man. He always was one, right from the beginning.

I suppose you could say my Knightley had to grow into his name. It took a while to get him toilet trained, so for a couple of weeks I was always shouting, “Knightley, stop peeing behind the TV!”, which just didn’t feel right. But he soon grew into a right little gentleman.

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(Photo by Sultan K. on Unsplash)

Knightley has been with me through all of this, right through the onset of the PTSD. I still haven’t told anyone in my family about that or the depression, but he’s seen it all.

I tend to do my crying in bed, under cover of darkness. Knightley spends every night on my bed anyway, but when I’m sad, he’ll curl up right beside me, pressed firmly against my side just to let me know he’s there. His purring will eventually calm me and send me off to sleep and I’ll usually wake with my arm around him. Other times he’ll wake me by jamming his paw in my face. Repeatedly. But I take that as a sign of affection too.

And when I’m having a low day, which thankfully is not that often, he won’t let me out of his sight. He’ll follow me around, waiting for me to sit down, then he’ll jump up on my lap and nuzzle me until I start to feel better. The big smoocher.

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(Photo by Monique Ragher)

We even meditate together. When I started using the Headspace app, I knew I was onto a good thing as soon as Knightley got involved. It started with him coming over to where I was sitting and gently placing a paw against my leg. I don’t know, maybe he was checking if I was okay. Then one day he climbed onto my lap, curled up and was in a deep asleep almost instantly. This surprised me. He usually takes a while to settle down, will spend about five minutes cleaning and purring his head off. But this time he was out, instantly.

That soon became an everyday thing. My ten-minute meditation is now a 30-minute snuggle session. But it’s all good. I still don’t know what Knightley is drawn to; maybe it’s Andy’s voice or maybe it’s the peace and calmness that the meditation brings out in me. He just loves it.

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(Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash)

There’s a lot I can appreciate in a cat’s personality. Some people think they’re aloof, but that’s just them being cautious. They don’t give their trust easily, you have to earn it. You have to earn their affection too, but once you’re in, you’re in for life.

Also, they don’t have time for your fucking bullshit. Amen to that.

Knightley has a number of interesting traits. For example, he never meows. But I suppose cats who have human slaves don’t really need to. He’s scared of lawnmowers. And loud birds. And people he doesn’t know. And he has a little stuffed toy chicken (named Chicken), that he drags around the house and attacks at random times of the day. I think he thinks he’s hunting. Also, he has a primordial pouch and if you don’t know what that is, Google it. It’s cute as. And he’s always striking these really heroic poses, like something you’d expect from David Beckham in an underwear ad.

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There have been studies on the health benefits associated with owning a pet. These include improved cardiovascular health resulting from increased physical activity (big shout out to all you crazy dog people), along with reduced anxiety and depression. There is evidence that merely petting an animal can reduce your heart rate and co-sleeping with a pet (or two) can improve your quality of sleep.

Pets achieve all of this by providing –

  • Companionship
  • Amusement
  • A sense of purpose
  • Endless pats, smooches, cuddles and headbutts
  • A constant reminder that you are unconditionally loved, valued and needed, even when you feel you’re at your worst

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(Photo by Monique Ragher)

Every morning, as I’m preparing his breakfast, Knightley jumps up on the kitchen bench and starts to gently headbutt me, purring like a madman. I kiss him on the top of the head and say, “I love you Knightley,” and he looks up at me as if to say, “I love you too, Mama. Feed me now?”

Knightley is a rescue cat, but sometimes I think he’s done all the rescuing.

© Triggered, 2017

Any comments or questions?