“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
If there is one thing I have found myself recommending over and over again throughout the last fifteen years, to both cat and dog owners, it is play. I (and many other pet caregivers and advisers) have found that if we can set up a routine of play with our animal friends, it can ease a whole world of ills. Play improves health, boosts confidence, and increases a sense of ownership of space. It fulfills instinctive needs for chase and catch, giving our predator friends an outlet for their natural urges. It is a wonderful way for an animal with energies he is directing inappropriately to reroute them to much more pleasant activities. Above all, play enhances the wonderful bond we humans have with our pets.
I have seen the inclusion of regular play sessions with a dog make a huge difference in his separation anxiety problems.
I have seen numerous cats who were not using their litter boxes due to stress return to more sanitary habits because their owners started playing with them for fifteen or twenty minutes a day.
I have seen old cats find new youth, and young dogs learn to control bad habits, like excessive barking and chewing, because of faithfully followed daily play routines.
There are a few keywords in the above that those who are attempting to incorporate “play therapy” into their pets lives should pay attention to: “Faithfully”, “Daily”, “Routine”.
We all play with our pets, of course. We do it when we have time, when we aren’t distracted by the normal humdrum of human life. Although haphazard play-times are fun and nice, they aren’t quite the same thing as giving our animals a special time, every day, so they may grow confident that this is their special time with Mom or Dad. Having a regular routine of play allows our cats or dogs to know that they own that space, and (just as importantly) that they get to share their space with their humans.
Choose fifteen or twenty minutes, around the same time each day, and engage your animal in a variety of games. Cats love to chase a wand toy, catch and kill it like real prey (and to symbolically fulfill the hunt, end the game with a snack or meal). Dogs thrive if they know the game of fetch, but even those who don’t bring the ball back will rejoice every time mom or dad throws it. (The trick here is to have an assortment of toys, balls and frisbees to toss, or you will be getting more exercise than the dog as you chase down the same toy over and over.) It’s perfectly fine, with the exception of animals with certain health problems (check with your vet if there is any doubt) to play till your pet is really tuckered out. Even an elderly or ailing pet, of course, will benefit from gentle play, as it is a chance to spend true quality time with his human.
Play therapy almost always works wonders, but it may not do so overnight. It usually takes a week or two of a regular daily play routine before pet parents begin to see the beneficial changes in their animals. So set up your play date, keep it each day, and trust that it will truly make a difference in many wonderful ways.
Helping The Animals
If would like to support a not-for-profit organization that does a great deal to help animals, please consider making a donation to New York Wildlife Rescue/Northeast Llama Rescue. Wes Laraway and his family and volunteers help hundreds of animals every year, with no funding except your donations and what comes out of their own pockets. You can support their efforts by visiting their website and clicking the “Donate” button. You can also look at their “Other Ways To Help” page (found under several of the top level drop-down menus) for more ideas. They can’t do it without the support of friends like you!
Now that the summer months have arrived, and since I have not (so far) been called in to work for the summer school session, it looks like things are going to be somewhat back to normal until September. I am again accepting new clients, and will sometimes be available for daytime phone sessions during the week. Email is still preferred, as other obligations have arisen that make my availability less than certain, but there is more room to work with now.