How companion animals help trauma sufferers

Children who develop insecure attachments with their primary caregivers too often form bonds with their pets as a substitute for the emotional attachment that they are not getting from their parents.  I believe this is partly supported by the study below:

There is growing evidence that animals are capable of offering features of a secure attachment relationship for children and that children can form emotional attachment with pets that are consistent in some respects with human attachment theory  Pets may offer children aspects of emotional attachment such as an affectional bond, special friendship, and may meet the prerequisites for an attachment relationship in terms of proximity seeking/maintenance, safe-haven, secure base and separation distress, which are observed in human-human attachments. Pets may act as supplementary attachment figures satisfying many attachment functions, but are unlikely to fulfil all functions of secure human attachment relationships that develop between children and their caregivers. (Source: Study on Attachment)

This theme has also been explored in popular culture – think “Lassie”, “Flipper” and “Benji” and a raft of Disney films about kids and their animal companions and adventures.

I believe that trauma survivors, specifically empaths, seek out companion animals but also that their bonds with these animals arises as a need to develop some form of emotional attachment when their primary caregivers during childhood are unable or unwilling to provide this form of care during their formative development.

My Cat Salem a few weeks before he died of kidney disease

As a personal sufferer of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) I can attest to how I have gravitated towards animals since a very early age.

When I was a child, many of the humans in my life profoundly disappointed me and so it made perfect sense to seek comfort and solace from hanging out with my cat and my pet chickens.

I grew up in a working class household in a small country town in Australia.  My parents were good Catholics with too many kids and not enough money.  My Mother developed cancer when I was 12 and I spent the next decade of my life watching her die.

My childhood was cut short and I spent years looking after siblings and then I escaped and left home at 17, put myself through a couple of university degrees and worked hard living in working class poverty for a couple of decades.

When I was 22 my Mother died.  I was shattered.  Because I was working in Sydney and renting I couldn’t afford to have a pet, it wasn’t until my mid 30s that I was able to get a cat again.

When I was 39 I got married and had my two children.  We had two cats and two dogs as I was minding my father’s dogs at the time.

Ten years later I left what became a very unhappy marriage and shortly after that separation, my cats (I had looked after for 17 years) both died from kidney disease and advanced age.

My ex husband turned my two kids then aged 10 and 8 against me and I spent the next three years in a very costly and ultimately, fruitless, legal battle to regain access to my kids.  I remarried and my second husband and I moved from Sydney to Belize in Central America.  We moved here with our miniature dachshund Maxie and three cats – including a three legged cat.

I know that because of my childhood trauma, I inadvertently sought out romantic relationships, friendships and work settings where I re-experienced traumatic treatment because possibly that is what I was accustomed to and what I guess I thought I deserved.  This was particularly so in the workplace and I am writing a separate article on my other blog on Alienation in the Workplace – something I experienced in spades for years.

After my divorce, I lost my kids, my career, my house – and even my two cats died. I did however manage to find my soulmate and I remarried successfully and we are building up our business Practical Cats.  But it is a tough gig trying to run an Amazon business in a Third World country like Belize.  This week we had water outages, problems with getting money out of our bank accounts and slow Internet – to name a few.  Some days the power just goes out.  The week we moved here we heard that a 7 year old boy had been murdered by drug dealers in our neighbourhood.  And there are stray neglected children and animals all over the neighbourhood here.  I can’t help the children as it would be inappropriate, but I can help the animals.  I did give some kids some cat food for their pet kitten.  But we found out that a week later someone had stolen their kitten.

I am fostering some kittens from the local humane society so at present we have 9 cats in our two bedroom Mennonite house here in Placencia, Belize – which is pretty crazy.  The foster kittens will be re-homed in about four weeks after they have been neutered.

After the horror of losing my children, having our pets has kept me a bit grounded and has helped with the severe depression.  I will always have functional depression because of my childhood and the subsequent loss of my kids but it can be managed somewhat by pet therapy.

You see a lot of stories online about war veterans in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and Afghanistan rescuing wounded or homeless animals and end up shipping them home because they bonded with those little creatures who were mistreated in these war zones.  You read amazing uplifting stories of dogs who never leave the side of their humans or who, after tragedy strikes, take up camp at their former owners’ gravesites.

Animals are wondrous and when you are able to build a bond with your companion cat or dog they show amazing gratitude in a lot of cases.  I have been feeding stray dogs outside our house for the last four months and I even managed to remove their fleas thanks to the donation of the local Humane Society of flea meds.  Those mangy dogs have such gratitude to us for our kindness. I was sitting on my porch and the dogs – I have named Castor and Pollux – come up and Castor puts his big paw on my arm.  These were wild stray dogs.  The girl dog has a nasty wound on her back from a fight and I am going to try and clean it up so she is not uncomfortable.  It is the little gestures that matter in life.

Our Stray Dogs Castor & Pollux walking along with Caribbean with our Maxie

I consider my little dachshund, Maxie my service dog and my cat, Trim, my service cat.

Our Cat Trim and our Dachshund Maxie – when he was a puppy

All life is precious.

Our foster kitten Scout enjoying the grey triangle



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