LIFE GOES ON: The Psychology of Animal Love

The Psychology of Animal Love

Years ago, my little Gracie was a therapy dog at Cedar Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills. Once a week, we would go to the Palliative Care floor. I would place her next to a soon-to-pass person in her bed. I remember one woman lifted her head and told me how much she missed her own dog, how she wished he could be with her. She kissed Gracie, smiled, closed her eyes, and drifted back to sleep with a look of joy on her previously pained face.

My dog Teddy and I now visit nursing homes. He is small enough to sit in the laps of the residents, and they delight in his energy and love for them. I often see men and women who look like they’re sleeping in their wheelchairs suddenly perk up with huge smiles when they hear us walk by. “A dog!!! Can I hold him???” As if it wasn’t worth opening their eyes to their surroundings until then. Same walls, same staff, same day, over and over again.  But an animal! Someone to love! Someone to touch! Someone to cuddle and kiss!

You can’t very well do that with another human being! “You are so cute! Can I touch you and kiss you?”

Teddy and I go to the park almost every day to play and meet other dogs. When I go by myself, no one approaches me to tell me how cute I am. I may be cute, but in our society, no one would do that, and if they did, I may run away!

Yesterday Teddy and I walked to the beach and he romped with a big dog for an hour. The dogs’ name was Maggie. I don’t know the name of the owners, and they don’t know mine. It doesn’t matter. We connected with the love of our dogs.

Animals give us permission to speak to strangers. They open our hearts to love when we may be too fearful to open them to people. Animals are safe.

For those who have little interaction with the world, animals can be a bridge to life. A living being to touch, talk to, sleep with, and love.

Research shows that people who live with animals live longer and with better health. Love extends life. We rescue each other from loneliness and isolation. Companionship, affection, playmate, best friend.


Kathleen Cairns, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut. She works with adults, adolescents, and couples. You may call her at 860-236-5555 to make an appointment. She is the author of “The Psychotherapy Workbook.”  You may email her at and she will try to answer as many of your questions as possible.

Life goes on… and every day matters…


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