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Stroking a pet can activate the release of oxytocin in the brain, which contributes to wellbeing and ability to handle stress, studies have found. Photo: Getty Images

Caring for a dog makes us more spiritual, thriller writer contends, and animal-behaviour experts agree

  • Award-winning author of mystery thrillers Manjiri Prabhu writes about how her dogs triggered her spiritual journey in her new book The DOGtrine of Peace
  • Chimp expert Jane Goodall is among experts cited who suggest the human-animal bond triggers mutual benefits – evoking peace in our hearts, and in the world

Can animals teach us life’s lessons? Anyone who has had a companion animal is certainly nodding, “Of course, animals enrich our lives.”

Mullu, my 10-year-old cat, walked into my life when I was wrestling with a tragedy. I had lost my husband Ram to cancer. My daughter Roshini brought home this ball of white and brown fur when it was barely a month old. I was not keen on a pet then, with my mother – a chronic asthma patient – living with us. So Roshini promised to find a home for it and pleaded for us to keep it until she did.

In no time, though, the kitten mewed and pawed its way into my heart. I found comfort in my conversations with her.

How having a dog or cat helps us with grief and loneliness

Our home was fraught with tension after Ram’s death, and arguments with my children were the order of the day. But Mullu’s presence worked like magic, wiping away our anger and pain. Bending down to stroke her, I could feel my sorrow and loneliness evaporate and a sense of calm descend.

My experiences with Mullu made it easy to relate to Manjiri Prabhu’s new book, The DOGtrine of Peace. Prabhu, an award-winning author of mystery thrillers, writes about her dogs and how they triggered her spiritual journey. Departing from her usual Agatha Christie-like style, she moves from fiction to reality to advocate benevolence towards street dogs as a key step towards finding peace and enlightenment.

Stroking a pet can activate the release of oxytocin in the brain, which contributes to well-being and ability to handle stress. Photo: Shutterstock

“When you begin caring for a dog, a special chamber of your heart is opened – like a third eye. I call it the divine chamber, which opens the divine channel. Love flows through the chamber into the channel, then through the channel into your dog,” Prabhu writes.

Spending time with dogs raises your “vibrations” (the concept of energy fields in the body), she says, and “the more your vibrations rise, the higher your frequency. Your aura becomes brighter, your consciousness increases, and your spiritual state is heightened.”

The Doctrine of Peace by Manjiri Prabhu.
It could all sound rather Zen, but Prabhu injects her work with anecdotes about dogs and interviews with animal-behaviour experts and animal communicators who share her views. These include British conservationist Jane Goodall, who spent 50 years living among chimpanzees, and Dr Stanley Coren, a Canadian professor of dog psychology from the University of British Columbia.

The book outlines what Prabhu sees as an alternative path to spirituality.

“Children and dogs in their natural states are spiritual,” Prabhu says. “They live in the moment – content and innocent – untouched by man-made conflicts. For me, spirituality is all about bringing this childlike innocence back into our lives – the understanding that everything is connected, everything is energy, and what each one of us does influences the lives of others.”

Professor of dog psychology Dr Stanley Coren was interviewed for the book.

The American non-profit Human Animal Bond Research Institute (Habri) in Washington also lends credence to Prahbu’s thesis.

Habri has assembled the world’s largest online library of human-animal interaction science. Since it was founded in 2010, it has funded more than US$3 million in research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of having a companion animal. Studies show owning a pet may improve heart health, alleviate depression, increase well-being, support child health and development, and contribute to healthy ageing.

In a University of Michigan survey of adults aged 50 to 80 in the US, most pet owners believed that animals connected them to other people, provided companionship, reduced stress, and helped them to be more physically active and cope with physical and emotional difficulties.

Why dogs were a lifesaver for Hong Kong teacher with breast cancer

Stroking a pet can activate the release of oxytocin in the brain, which contributes to well-being and ability to handle stress. Studies show that those with dogs or cats laughed more in their daily lives than people without pets.

In children with autism spectrum disorder, having a cat may result in their ability to show greater empathy, to have less separation anxiety, and to be less bullying and hyperactive, according to a 2020 study in the Journal of Paediatric Nursing.

Habri’s recent research also found that pets were a welcome distraction during the pandemic. Besides easing stress, pets helped their carers maintain a regular schedule, cope with uncertainty and find purpose.

British conservationist Jane Goodall is interviewed for the book. Photo: Nora Tam

Like so many people in Prabhu’s book, I, too, learned that pets can also take care of us, such as when Mullu woke me up at three in the morning – her urgent mews alerting me that my 90-year-old father had fallen and lay bleeding. Another day her frantic mews drew attention to my mother who needed urgent help.

The DOGtrine of Peace propagates a new way of thinking,” Prabhu says. As more people respect and care for other animals in need, “love will keep growing and multiplying, eliminating hate and eventually, peace will reign”.

What the animal experts say

Dr Stanley Coren, Canadian psychologist and dog behaviour researcher

“Spending time with dogs, petting and cuddling, increases levels of oxytocin. It calms your nervous system down, relaxing you, while increasing your trust. Human beings have a need to nurture and what we get from the dog is what psychologists call unconditional positive regard.

“People living with dogs tend to be more empathetic and much less likely to be aggressive. The level of empathy of kids growing up with dogs is higher than that of kids who do not. Their social skills [and] ability to communicate also goes up.”

The therapy dogs helping young and old cope better with life

Dr Jane Goodall, British scientist and conservationist, chimpanzee expert and author

“Dogs are special because when you bond with a dog, it’s like a true, close relationship. Dogs are so faithful. If we all make ethical choices in what we buy and how we behave towards each other, animals and the environment, then we move one choice, one action, one day at a time towards a more peaceful world.”

David Ji, popular life guide based in California who meditates with his dog, Peaches

“The reality is dogs understand meditation; they see it at a vibration level which is distinctly different from sleep. Peaches is my spiritual teacher. She has taught me to be in the moment and not worry about the future. The unconditional love of a dog can evoke the vibration of peace in your heart and in society and the world.”

Penelope Smith, animal communication specialist based in California, author of the books Animal Talk, When Animals Speak and Animals in Spirit

“Talking with animals opens you up emotionally, spiritually and there is this warmth of connection. If you can listen and get their thoughts, feelings and everything else, then you’re living more in an equal way – soul to soul.

“When people shift in their perception of their animals, their life changes and they evolve on their spiritual path. This shift happens when you’re taking care of them, but you realise that they’re taking care of you, too.”

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