By Claire Crawford
It’s difficult to explain how special, how healing, a pet is to someone who isn’t an animal lover. Millennials and Gen Zers appear to be embracing the magic of caring for little animal friends. For me, nothing exemplifies the magic of the emotional support an animal can provide more than growing up with my childhood cat Tiny.
Currently, 70% of people between the ages of 18-24 years have pets. Over 60% of cat and dog owners refer to their pet as a family member, and 37% of owners refer to themselves as the pet’s parent. Growing up, my cat was my childhood best friend.
I grew up on a relatively remote farm where internet and phone reception were almost completely dysfunctional, and it was 8km just to get to the mailbox. Outside of school, my sister and I were left to entertain ourselves.
Instead of TV and the internet, we had an entourage of animals: horses, chickens, poddy lambs, moggy cats, a whole pack of sheep dogs and that one goanna that managed to get into our farm manager’s kitchen. While all of them contributed significantly to raising me, no one worked their way into my heart quite like my cat Tiny.
He was the runt of the litter, hence the name Tiny. He was a lilac Burmese with a tiny little kink at the end of his tail where it must have been broken and healed crooked.
I was nine when we got him, and he was intended to be a family pet, but it quickly became clear that he was very much my cat. Not only was I obsessed with him, but my parents realised they’d accidentally found an unlikely medicine. Before we had Tiny, I was prone to night terrors and sleep walking. My parents had tried many treatment methods, both conventional and unusual, but the only thing that had even come close to helping was when I snuck our old sheepdog inside in the middle of the night and curled up on the couch with her.
Enter Tiny. My night terrors significantly decreased as it became routine for him to sleep with me cuddling him like a teddy bear.
It wasn’t until I moved to college and had to start sleeping without Tiny again that I realised I’m still highly prone to hyper realistic nightmares, and it was his silent guardian presence at night that had been keeping the monsters away.
The healing experience of pet ownership is something our generation is no stranger to. According to Animal Medicines Australia, 90% of pet owners say their pets have a very positive impact on the lives. Among pet owners 18% specified that their pet improves their mental health and wellbeing, and 49% say their pet provides relational benefits such as companionship.
Purring is a perfect example of the healing bond between cats and humans. It releases endorphins within cats, and can also do the same to humans. It can help reduce stress and even potentially promote physical healing, as the frequency of a cat’s purrs has been shown to promote healing in bones, tendons, and joints.
A 2015 Australian study even showed that cat owners claimed to be more happy, less nervous and have better sleep and focus. And a Scottish survey of kids between 11-15 showed that kids with a strong bond with their kittens had a higher quality of life. The better their bond with their kitten, the more fit and attentive, and less lonely and sad, they felt.
But this wasn’t all there was to our relationship. He absolutely loved following around his human. My mum regularly recounts the common sight of my sister and I running past the kitchen window, enthralled in whatever silly game we were playing, shortly followed by a little grey cat bounding happily after us. As we grew together, we slowly settled. The new common sight at our household was the two of us sitting in the kitchen in the morning, disgruntled, with bedhead and dead eyes. Neither of us were morning people.
Instead, twilight was our active time. Each evening I would stand at the door and call his name and he would swiftly trot to the door for our evening walks. We would run around the farm, climbing rocks and logs before inevitably finding a spot to perch and watch the sun drop together with him in my lap.
We didn’t speak the same language, but we understood each other perfectly. His main way of communicating was glaring, but I knew exactly what each glare meant: I’m hungry; it’s play time; hurry up and finish with your infernal bits of paper and come to bed for cuddles already.
My time with Tiny came to an end last year. While that was, and continues to be, heartbreaking, I now have a budding new relationship; a 6-month-old Ragdoll kitten named Aello. Being such a youngster compared to me, our relationship is much more like child and mother compared to Tiny.
As she matures, and we get better and better at communicating with each other, I’m slowly feeling that shift into that old partner-in-crime feeling I’m so familiar with. Who knows what our future holds, but I’m looking forward to shaping it together with her.
Claire Crawford is a recent University of Melbourne Master of Publishing and Communications graduate. She currently works full-time as a journalist at Coretext, a Melbourne-based publisher that specialises in science communication.
All photos taken and provided by Claire Crawford, author. Used with permission.