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How animals help us heal

I love my cat Leo.

He came to us two years ago from Tony La Russa's ARF Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek California. It's a remarkable place where rescued animals live a very nice life before finding a good home to go to.

He wasn't my first choice as he was older than some of the other ones I was interested in.

When I entered his big glass enclosure he was immediately able to connect with me.

This cat was not afraid of a stranger and I fell in love with him then and there.

Animals have a remarkable ability to help us come back to feeling at home again. They accept us exactly as we are and they ask very little of us beyond food, water, shelter, a good walk, and a little love.

This feeling of coming back to ourselves again is essential to being able to feel happy, peaceful, grounded and strong.

So many of us with trauma have lost contact with those feelings and animals have this wonderful ability to help us find them again.

The use of animals for healing in medical settings dates back 150 years to Florence Nightingale.

More recently Rebecca Johnson from the Research Center for Human/ Animal interaction at The University of Missouri College of Medicine says that interacting with animals can increase people's level of the hormone oxytocin.

She states this is very beneficial for us as oxytocin helps us feel happy and trusting.

It also helps grow new cells and has a powerful effect on the body's ability to heal.

Studies show that we have mirror neurons and cells that light up in our brain and nervous system when we are co-regulating with another being.

This includes our beloved animal friends.

It can happen with a lover, partner, child or a friend but there is something special about that connection with an animal that's different.

I don't need to go into my survival energies to take care of myself with Leo because he's pretty well regulated most of the time. Since he's so well regulated, I can regulate myself better with him.

This is a real treat to just enjoy our connection without having to do much work at all to take care of myself.

This isn't true for most relationships. Relationships require a lot of work both with ourselves and the other person to keep things running smoothly.

I am so grateful to have found my feline friend as he has helped me heal from a past that was very hard.

He has helped me find home again.