“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” — Albert Einstein

Did you know that having compassion for others improves your health? If you’re a pet owner or animal lover, you’ll be pleased to learn that this includes showing kindness to your furry, feathered, and scaled friends, too. Just by petting your dogs and cats, and being kind to creatures in the wild, you enhance your mental and physical health, lower anxiety and depression, recover from illnesses more quickly, and increase your lifespan. Here are some of the reasons why this compassion is so beneficial.

1. Compassion Improves Well-being

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” — Anatole France

The two cats I rescued from an animal shelter a couple of years ago actually rescued me. These unwanted felines helped me to find hope and resilience after losing my father to Parkinson’s Disease. Two-year-old Ziggy was on the kill list because it would cost too much to pull his bad teeth. And Zoe was getting “too old” to be adoptable. These playful friends showed me unconditional love, made me laugh, and helped me feel like I was not alone after I’d walled myself off from the world. Can you relate?

Studies show that spending 15 to 30 minutes of quality time with your pets makes you feel more relaxed. Playing with your dogs and cats increases feel-good neurotransmitters that help balance mood (serotonin) and control the brain’s pleasure centers (dopamine). Just watching reunions between dogs and their owners, and cats with the people they own, shows how much joy these pets can bring to our lives.

2. Compassion Boosts Physical Health

“Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.” — Roger Caras

My friend Mary told me about how a middle-aged Golden Retriever turned her mother’s declining health around. Mary had given Andy to her mom to serve as a constant companion now that she was stuck at home ailing from a condition she was unmotivated to improve. Over time, Andy gained a lot of weight. Her mother felt such compassion for the canine that she forced herself to get up and walk him a little each day. At first it was just a few steps, then a couple of blocks, and now miles. Not only did Andy lose the weight, but Mary’s mother looks and feels ten years younger.

Having a dog prompts us to exercise more, which lowers our blood pressure and make us less likely to get heart disease. In general, people with dogs visit their doctor less often than people who don’t have dogs. And owning a cat lowers the chances of dying from a heart attack. Loving our pets lowers stress, thus diminishing the risk that we’ll get a whole host of nasty diseases.

3. Compassion Increases Vitality and Longevity

“Compassion brings us to a stop, and for a moment we rise above ourselves.” — Mason Cooley

Playing and laughing with your dogs and cats can help boost your immune system and increase your day-to-day energy levels. According to Mao Shing Ni, PhD, “numerous studies have shown that having pets helps lower our stress levels, decrease blood pressure, benefit our cholesterol, improve our mood, and boost our immunity – in other words, lengthen our life span.”

Other research shows that volunteerism predicts a longer and healthier life. For 26 years, Jung Myoung has saved hundreds of dogs from being eaten in South Korea, where they’re considered a delicacy. She buys them from dog traders and is still going strong at age 61 under tough circumstances.

4. Compassion Gives Us Possibilities

“When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.” — Anthony Douglas Williams

Believing that you have possibilities gives you a higher quality of life, especially when you’re physically impaired. Kirsten Klindworth was confined to a wheelchair and could no longer ride her beloved Arabian horse Synbaadd (aka Cory). Once Francine Dismukes trained Cory to lie down so that Kristin could mount him, she was able to ride him again and set her soul free.

Service dogs lessen anxiety and depression in their owners, giving them hope for the future. There are even seeing eye horses now, too!  Dan Shaw calls Cuddles, the first documented case, his “best friend and guiding light.”

5. The Compassion Animals Show Each Other is Inspiring

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” — Martin Buber

Rademenes is a black cat in a Polish animal shelter who was dropped off to be euthanized, but miraculously recovered from an upper-respiratory infection. He now spends his days helping to nurse sick cats and dogs back to health. Maggie, a mutt who had been admitted to the AARCS shelter, heard new foster pups crying their first night there and escaped from her kennel to sit next to their room and watch over them. Hantu, a white German Shepherd, adopted Poncho, an orphaned baby opossum who regularly rides on her back. Vali, a brown bear in a Budapest zoo, saved a crow from drowning. Footage shows a fox nursing BEAR cubs in a forest after their mother died. Elephants hug and comfort each other in times of distress.

These are just a few of the examples which show that this kind of compassion is in the nature of many animals.

6. The Compassion Animals Show Humans is Inspiring

“We should have more respect for animals because it makes us better humans.” — Jane Goodall

There are several stories of cats saving human lives. For example, a surveillance video captured a cat rescuing a four-year-old boy from a vicious unprovoked dog attack (that video has over 25 millionYouTube views).

A dolphin prevented a teenager from drowning, a calf saved a woman from a snake, a gorilla rescued a boy from being attacked by other gorillas in a zoo, a pit bull protected a mother and young son from being knifed by a man in a playground… the list goes on.

7. Compassion Can Be Taught

“Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use.” — Gandhi

In Russia, homeless cats and dogs die not only from hunger, cold, and accidents, but also from beatings and beheadings in appalling numbers by children who were not given enough attention and love (many are orphans). Big Hearts Foundation is reducing the incidence of animal cruelty by teaching kids to develop empathy, love, and care for animals through the use of cartoons.

Kevin Richardson, a South African Zoologist, hugs lions and shows how playful these cats can be to engender compassion in hunters in the hopes of preventing them from killing off this dwindling precious wildlife.

8. Compassion Is Instinctive

“Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living beings, humanity will not find peace.” — Dr. Albert Schweitzer, 1952 Nobel Peace Prize

At the Interspecies Equality Sanctuary in Santiago, Chile, a refuge for farm animals, Marina the kitten and Laura the piglet bonded after surviving extremely tough starts in life. According to the sanctuary owner, “Laura has formed a deep friendship with Marina the kitten, showing by example, that when it comes to relations of friendship and respect, it doesn’t matter the species to which one belongs.”

And Lilica, a superhero mutt in Brazil, travels miles to bring food back to her chicken, cat, and dog friends in a junkyard. According to the junkyard owner, Neile Vãnia Antônio, “we human beings, we almost never share things with others. Now for an animal to share with others, it’s a… life lesson for us.”

9. Compassion Makes Us Feel Good

“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” — Immanuel Kant

As I did research for this article, I have to admit that I was blown away by the sheer volume of stories I found on animals exhibiting concern and care for each other. If they can do it, so can we. And we do.

An everyday hero un-trapped a Bighorn sheep he encountered while jogging in the woods. Two good samaritans rescued a deer who was stranded on an ice pond. Beach-goers helped save a beached Great white shark. Valentin Gruener saved Sirga, a lioness cub abandoned by her pride, from dying. John Unger held his beloved dog Schoep in a lake every day to help relieve his pooch’s pain from arthritis.

Inspiring, right? So, why not show an animal a little extra love and tenderness today? You don’t have to go as far as hugging a lion, but you can spend more quality time with your pets. Let’s be honest. It’s pretty easy to overlook them when we get caught up in our fast-paced, hectic world. But they don’t live as long as we do (usually), and our time together is precious. Make it count. Expressing empathy for animals not only lifts your mood, lowers stress, and boosts your health, but it cracks your heart wide open, too.

Featured photo credit: http://www.earthporm.com via lionwhisperer.co.za

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