Being a Zoophilist May Add Life to Your Years

By Khevin Barnes

Springtime in Vail brings much more than just a return of “snowbirds”. It’s a splendid arena for viewing and interacting with nature in all its glory and pageantry. Don’t believe me? Just take a look out your window. Birds of all kinds are busy preparing nests for their newborn. Lizards adorn our walls and the songs of coyote pups echo through the night. If you’re an animal lover as I am, you are also, scientifically speaking, a “Zoophilist”.

Not to worry. I’ve been called worse.

I am, in fact, a hopeless and indefensible “Ailurophile”, or lover of cats. If you have an animal of any sort in your house (excluding javelinas of course), you already know that pets have a way of inserting themselves into our homes and hearts. This, then, is a tale about two kittens.

Let me begin by telling you that I started my life being highly allergic to cats. In fact, I was once removed from my second grade classroom and rushed to the local hospital for a hefty dose of adrenaline when my eyes swelled shut and my breathing was seriously impaired—the result of my exposure to felines. By the way, it’s not cat hair that causes allergies like mine, but an enzyme in the dried saliva from cats licking themselves.

And, so, I grew up being angry at cats. As a little boy I knew they made me sick, and so, that inherent cuteness that touches most anyone with a love of animals was never available to me.

Fast forward now about 65 years. I’ve had a couple of cats along the way, and found them to be wonderful friends, and over the years my itchy eyes and runny nose have eased up significantly.
In 2014 my wife and I moved into our home here in Vail—a very cat-friendly house—and talked about adding a feline to our family of two. Coincidentally, that was the year that I was diagnosed with a rare disease called male breast cancer. I only bring that up now because it is an important element in the next part of this tale.

One day my wife ran across a television news story about a tiny kitten at the local animal shelter who was a breast cancer survivor too! The cat had just three legs after a serious surgery, but was as peppy and charming as could be.
“What can we do with a three-legged cat?” I asked myself.

Then I remembered that I am a one-breasted man and nobody seems to mind.

We talked it over for a couple of days and finally got in the car with a cat carrier and drove to the animal shelter. This would be the perfect cat to love.

When we arrived we were told the cat had been adopted. In fact, the outpouring of compassion and kindness was impressive. A lot of people had called the shelter, wanting to give a home to that cat.
Months went by before a neighbor informed us that her daughter lived on a horse ranch about 20 miles outside of Vail where 5 baby barn cats had been born. The coyotes would surely make supper of some or all of them, so we were advised to come take a look immediately.

And there they were, huddled up in one corner of the dark and dusty barn. I picked up one and my wife another. “Which should we take?”

We each held tight to the kitten in our hands and before we knew it, we had two new family members and our lives were forever enriched by their presence.

But here’s the important part of the story.

The National Center for Health Research concluded that the social support a pet provides can make a person feel more relaxed and decreases stress. Cancer survivors, and anyone with a life-threatening illness, have supported these findings. Social support from friends and family can have similar benefits, but interpersonal relationships often cause stress as well, whereas pets may be less likely to cause stress, the studies show.

A study at Cambridge University found that owning a pet produced improvements in general health in as little as one month. And Dr. Edward Creagan, an Oncologist at Mayo Clinic Rochester, Minnesota recently remarked:

” A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.”

Today, as I write this, our “kittens” are 6 years old. They are a constant source of joy and laughter and easily the best anti-stress therapy we have going. And, while a pet is no cure for cancer, having one is certainly a great antidote to a down day.
So I have self-prescribed multiple doses of furry feline for myself. I think of it as a sort of a “Cat Scan” for health and healing. And now that empty space on my chest, once numb and void of sensation, has been filled beautifully with the gentle heartbeat of two purring kittens.

Khevin Barnes has been a health journalist for “CURE” magazine since 2014. He and his wife are proud parents to two barn cats, “Monkey” and “Trouble”. 68% of US households own a pet.

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