And yet, I believe we as a society are lacking a level of awareness pertaining to our pets. I don't think we understand just how crucial our early animal connections are to shaping our adult lives and human relationships. Therapy routinely focuses on our families. We are asked about our relationships with our mother, father, siblings and human playmates. But most intake forms don't have a section about pets. Most therapists do not ask their patients about their relationships with animals - whether in childhood or adulthood. Unfortunately, we are still stuck in a culture which relegates animal connections to the periphery of human psychology.
Deep ecologist, John Seed, argues that our current culture robs us of the emotional and visceral experience of the interconnectedness most of us shared with animals as small children. In fact the majority of us have been trained and shamed away from putting much importance on our connections to animals. While Americans love their pets, they still exhibit an awkwardness around expressing that love. Our laws classify pets as property and our conventions of speech relegate sentient beings to inanimate objects with pronouns like "it."
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Human chauvinism, known as anthropocentrism, asserts human supremacy over all other life forms. It lives in the sacred text of many religions which believe "man" is the "pinnacle of creation." And it exists in scientific discourse which insists homo sapiens are superior to all other evolved life forms. No matter the political or spiritual orientation, people tend toward this self-serving world view.
But does it really serve us? Does minimizing and denying the heart connections, empathy, shared joys and love most of us felt for our pets when we were small children, help us to live better lives?
From the vantage point of my office, I would reply with a resounding "no." My clients don't come to me to talk about their childhood pets. They are there to work on repressed or acted out anger as well as sexual dissatisfaction of one sort or another. But in the process of uncovering those emotions and life events which often produce dysfunctional patterns and frustrated goals, a violation of innocence and a crushing of spirit very often reveals itself. While this may take the form of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and/or protracted illness, I have been astounded at the level of grief reserved for that first love - the love of a pet.
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Humans have a long history of living in harmony with other life forms just as we have a long history of abusing anyone we designate as "other" be that another gender, another race or another species. If we are ever to tip the balance in favor of a more loving and positive culture, we must begin an open dialog about our true feelings surrounding our animal relationships. If we continue to silence the voice of our inner child and don the mask of adulthood which demands an almost robotic response our tender memories, then we continue to perpetuate a culture which is both mechanical and cruel.