Research has shown that besides being cute, cuddly and adorable companions, pets have an uncanny ability to teach human beings certain moral attributes better than any other person can. I have been a oet owner for most of my life and can boldly claim, with almost absolute confidence, that my pets have taught me certain skills and values that I otherwise might not have learned. For as long as I can remember, I have had pets; fishes, terrapins, quails, hamsters, rabbits etc, the list will go on. My current friend is of the cuddly nature, a cat of 7 years which I rescued as a stray and while he has been quite a pain occasionally, he has taught me the value of patience, if nothing else.
I am sure that while every pet owner, like me, has experienced their fair share of unpleasantness such as ripped sofas, broken vases, and terrible potty habits, we love our pets and have learned value life lessons from them as a result of owning having them with us.
In general, pets are great teachers of responsibility, especially for children. With ownership comes responsibility and there is no way around it. Like the Tamagotchis of my childhood, pets require constant attention and routine necessities. Feeding, training, playtime, and taking note of any illnesses are just some of the many things that I had to take note of when I got my cat. I remember spending an excruciating amount of time potty training my cat (and having to clean up his poop while he learned) and making sure that he had no illnesses.
The amount of energy, time and money required to maintain a pet is tremendous and requires alot of patience and commitment but is truly worth it and having gone through the process of caring for my cat, it has taught me the value of responsibility.
It is not uncommon to hear of people having dogs as their best friends or actual confidants. While this may seem strange, especially for those who do not have furry friends, it actually makes a lot of sense. Being non-judgemental creatures by nature (although some cats might seem otherwise), it is much easier opening one’s heart to a pet as compared to another human. One can simply share their sorrows, anxiety and stress in the comfort of their empathetic companion.
This absolutely helps as verbalizing the problem often helps a person confront it and helps on the path to overcoming it. Furthermore, by sharing these inner thoughts, we learn to communicate and embrace vulnerability, even if it is to a being that probably has no idea about what we are talking about.
However, despite their inability to understand our language, pets have shown a great capacity for empathy. The internet is littered with videos of dogs and cats cuddling their grieving owners and the fact that dogs can be trained to be actual emotional support animals should be testament to their capacity for empathy.
Bearing all of these in mind, it should not be surprising that not only do pets help improve mental health, it can be one of the first few steps that a person takes to learn to communicate. While speaking to another person would be quite different, confiding in your pet might be the first step to bringing down the walls around yourself and learning to trust others.
Companion animals, especially dogs, are superb at educating us what unconditional love really means. Animals only know one thing: that you are their best friend and they love you. They could care less about how much money you make or the kind of car you drive and are always happy to see you. Videos of dogs bounding towards their owners coming home after a long trip are all over the internet and is such a heartwarming thing to watch. Even if you accidentally hurt them (I must confess that I have stepped onto my cat’s feet in the dark by accident) during a grooming or by pure accident, they always forgive you. All they need is simply your attention, food and shelter in return for their company.
Having a pet also teaches us some social skills directly and indirectly. Compassion, kindness, and patience are just some of the many values in addition to those above that pets teach us and these values help us in our interactions with other people.
One of the more important lessons is empathy. Similar to how our pets not understanding our language, we do not really have the ability to communicate with our animals. They are not able to communicate their pain, happiness, or other emotions to us directly and we rely on certain cues to “determine” how our pets are feeling and try to give them the best that we can. This does translate, to a certain extent, to us being able to pick up certain social cues from other people and an overall ability to be more empathetic toward others.
Now, contrary to what others might believe in, owning a pet teaches us social skills in a very direct manner. Pets, especially dogs, make excellent ice breaker topics when meeting new people. It helps us have a topic to ease every one into the conversation and everybody tends to ease up when talking about cute and cuddly companions.
In addition, one of the other ways that our pets directly teach us how to interact with others is by “forcing” us into it. While it is not as common in Singapore, people bringing their pets out for a stroll tend to get approached by others who just want to meet their furry friend. When this happens, there is undoubtedly some small talk that will have to happen between the owner and the other person and does definitely serve as some “training” to hone one’s social skills, especially for those that are more introverted and would like to improve. After all, faking it until you make it is arguably one of the most effective ways to learn something
Your Best Friend
All in all, pets are excellent teachers of soft skills and moral values, not to mention the immense mental health benefits and emotional support that they give us. Although they do not impart any tangible hard skills, these attributes that our pets teach us impact our lives directly and make us better people.
However, while a pet brings much benefits to us, it is important that we treat them as they treat us. They are our best friends and we should treat them as such. Owning a pet involves responsibility and commitment; we would be doing them a great disservice if we got a pet on impulse and did not take care of them properly. We must be sure to take care of them to the best of our ability and should always evaluate whether we have the capacity to own a pet in terms of time and resources. If you do, however, I am sure that having a pet will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.