April 3, 2023

Love and loss: What we can learn from puppies

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Leah's neighborhood dog recently had puppies in her home, and she's feeling all the puppy love. She talks with Ofosu about the lessons in unconditional love, mindfulness, and contentment that we can learn from animals. They also discuss ways we can perceive the world more like our four-legged friends.

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▶️ You can watch the latest episode on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/zVtjZAv73Jw

🎧 What's in this episode:

  • (00:00) The story of Lala, Leah's neighborhood dog
  • (01:53) How animals can help us live healthier and happier lives
  • (03:29) How to bond with and learn from animals
  • (06:46) Caring for rescue animals and the power of loving attention
  • (09:13) What we gain from taking care of animals
  • (11:08) Alternatives to pet ownership
  • (12:20) Ofosu's childhood dog and grieving the loss of a pet

🧘 About Balance: Well Balanced is co-hosted by Ofosu and Leah, Balance’s Co-Heads of Meditation. Balance is a highly personalized meditation and sleep app that's been named Google's App of the Year and Apple's App of the Day. Completely free for the entire first year, Balance is helping 5 million+ people around the world improve their stress, sleep, focus, and mood. Unlock your free year of Balance today by downloading it from the App Store or Play Store: https://balanceapp.sng.link/Arat1/z704/izn0


Ofosu: Is that a puppy? Oh my gosh. Wow. 

Leah: She just opened her eyes yesterday. Really? She's only two weeks old. 

Ofosu: Look at that tiny thing. Hey, sweet thing.

Leah: I got two more little rugrats like this in my living room right now. I call 'em fuzzy slugs. Because they just kind of like crawl around on their front legs and their back legs just kind of aren't really useful yet.

So they just crawl around on their bellies and their front legs. Oh, it's so cute. 

Ofosu: Look at you little. 

Leah: Yeah. So here's the story. Um, they're not even my dogs, but I have this beautiful, uh, neighborhood of Balinese families and, um, this people across the street have a, a little short-legged dog named Lala, who has sort of semi adopted us.

So she comes over every day and eats at our house. And then goes back home and, uh, she ended up getting pregnant because there's lots of street dogs in Bali. And, um, she came over to my house two weeks ago and I could tell she was in labor and was having puppies on my couch. So they've been over here ever since.

And the neighbors and I discussed, and, you know, they're, they're busy all working all day long. So I'm home a lot more and I, I'm watching them while they're little and vulnerable. So when this happened, I started thinking about animals and what they can teach us. About love and care, but also maybe rejection and, and then how to care for others.

So let's, yeah, let's talk about that. 

Ofosu: Alright, let's get into it. 

Leah: So, hi, I am Leah Santa Cruz.

Ofosu: And I'm Ofosu Jones Quartey. 

Leah: And we're the meditation coaches on the Balance app. 

Ofosu: And this is our weekly show Well-Balanced, where we explore ways to live a healthier, happier life. 

Leah: There's been a lot of research about the bonds that, that humans have with dogs.

And I feel it myself when I'm with these little guys and with my, my own dogs. Cause now I have six dogs in my house. Um, but I, three of 'em are puppies. Um, but I can tell that there's just this same as, as having a child like and, and looking at a kid's eyes and feeling that bond. I can feel that with my pets.

And there's this really cool, uh, institute called the Heart Math Institute, and they do a lot of research on hearts and bondings and our connection with one another and heart coherence is what they call it. And they've found that when we look into the eyes of a dog. And we look with loving compassion and attention, and the dog looks back at us. And doesn't matter if it's for a few seconds, we start to experience an increase in oxytocin, which is that bonding chemical hormone in our brain. And the dog experiences it too. And if we, the people who look the longest and spend the most time looking in their dog's eyes, the dog gets like 130% increase in oxytocin.

And the human. It's 300% increase in oxytocin. Which is pretty incredible. No, but like let's say you just have a, a dog around and you're not really looking at their eyes and not really connecting with them, then you wouldn't have that increase. Yeah. So there really is something about like, Yeah, taking that time to connect.

Ofosu: There's something very powerful, you know, about the connection that we make with, with our animals. There's, there's a channel on Instagram called Knuckle Bump Farms, and it's, I don't know what they actually do on this farm, but the woman who runs this farm hasan emu and she's named it Emmanuel Todd Lopez.

And I never, and I, I have birds and you don't, and, and I'll, I'll talk about the relationship with the, the birds that we have, uh, later, but like, you know, the relationship that you see her have with this, this giant emu, you know, they've, they've clearly have an emotional bond with one another and the emu falls asleep in her lap sometimes.

And, you know, they just, they're, they're quite affectionate. And speaking for myself, I, I didn't really think about birds as being like affectionate animals. And, um, but you, you, you see that they are, you see that if you go to Knuckle Bump Farms, uh, Instagram page, you're in for a treat. 

Leah: We had a bird that was very affectionate with my stepdad with one person in our household. Yeah. She just loved him um, and could care less about everyone else. 

Ofosu: Well, there we go. Talking about, uh, talking about rejection when it comes to, when it comes to animals and how to deal with that. You know, I, we have two parakeets, Lapis and Paradot. Paradot laid eggs.

One of them hatched, but the two didn't. And then, I mean, we went through so much stuff like trying to just, you know, all the internet stuff. But they, but they, the one thing that they kept saying is that like, there's is such a high chance that that little baby's gonna die. And, uh, the baby bird's gonna die.

And, and unfor, unfortunately, you know, she, I remember hearing it hatch and the, the little cheap, cheap, cheap. And then, yeah. But a few days later she passed or it passed away. Hm. And, you know, Lapis and Paradot were, were kind of never the same after that. Paradot just kind of cut off all contact with humans.

Like she does not want to be pet, she doesn't wanna get on your finger, anything like that. Lapis is the boy and Lapis will get on your finger. And we don't, we keep them in an open cage, so they fly around the house and it's just kind of madness. 

Leah: It's easy to assume that we're the only ones capable of feeling that kind of anguish, but I think animals do.

Um, we see that with the cows and with, you know, other horses I had, I grew up with horses and pigs and goats and chickens and bunnies and dogs and cats, like a whole lot of hobby farm animals and uh, I, it's, it's easy to see that they have so much empathy. You know? More than we give them credit for and, um, they're otherwise pretty content and yeah that's because they're just so present. They're like, in this moment, everything's okay, and I can relax and I can take a nap. 

And we as human beings are not so easily present and mindful of like, hey, in this moment everything is actually okay. There's no big threat in this room, so I actually don't need to be in this fight or flight response and I think we can learn something from the presence of mindfulness, of, of animals. 

Ofosu: Yeah. I think we also see when an animal has had a really hard time though when they've been, um, abandoned or abused or just have had a tougher life, you know, they, you do see that they're a little bit more on high alert and, um, that it is harder for them to arrive at that natural state of presence, but that being cared for.

Um, I, I just, so I saw this story again on Instagram, don't judge my social media consumption. Um, but this dog has terrible mange. Had terrible mange. And was, and had no fur at all on its body, and had these, oh man, just really, really terrible. Like, um, scabbing on its ears. It was at a shelter, but nobody wanted it because it looked overwhelming, you know?

It was overwhelming to behold. But this one woman decided, you know, I'm gonna just take care of this dog. This is gonna be, this is gonna be my dog. And just watching the time lapse transformation of it, because the, the dog would just be cowering in a corner and just was really scared of people and just, and probably in a lot of discomfort.

And you just saw the gradual process of him warming up to his owner? Accepting medicine, accepting like good food, and then his hair growing back and all the scabs healing on his ears. And then this was like a completely different animal after, I guess like a year or so of, of just being cared for. 

And the power of, you know, what loving attention can do. I mean, when we're practicing meditation, we're practicing bringing loving attention to our experience. And it's transformative. You know, it takes a, it can take, it can take a while for a deep transformation to take place, but every moment that we bring loving attention to something can, can be transformative.

And you really saw it in this story with this, with this dog. And you see that time and time again when people are caring for rescue animals and stuff like that. 

Leah: Yeah. I have two rescues myself and one of them was such a small puppy when he was rescued. I don't think he remembers so much, but the other one was a year and a half old and he'd been found on a beach abandoned, and he was scavenging.

I, I can just tell that he's just so grateful for having been rescued and he still has some trauma. You know, I think it's like we, we're no different. You know, we, if you experience childhood trauma, you know, you're, we, we have to work with some of that for the rest of our lives. But it's a big responsibility, you know, having animals, having pets, and I think it's scary for people to go, oh, it's such a commitment.

I hear that a lot from, from folks. Especially if they travel a lot, they have busy lives and they're not, they're not home a lot. It does, it does require a change in your lifestyle. Especially if that living creature lives a long time. Like a horse or a parrot. Um, yes, she's, she's got a cute little voice.

Yeah. And yet there's so much to be gained from taking on that, that choice to be selfless and to take care of another living being, I think it really shapes our character and creates some fortitude. It's a rewarding experience where we learn responsibility and we, and that translates into other areas of our lives, and we, we get the benefits of that oxytocin and the, the wellbeing that happens in our health and the emotional, you know, uh, wellness that comes with that.

And we learn about trust and we learn about loyalty and unconditional love. 

Ofosu: Oh my gosh, Leah, you are just like, you're advocating for my children, whether you know it or not, cuz we are getting hounded, no pun intended, to get, uh, to get a dog and 

Leah: Um, you just come to Bali and take one of these. 

Ofosu: If I would honestly, um, it's very much a one way street with the birds because they, yeah, they're, they, they don't really offer very much in the way of affection, but it is, you know, I still do get something out of feeding them and watching them.

Um, you know, just, just caring for them and just, and knowing that they are cared for, that they're happy. And, you know, so, and that makes me happy that we are caring for them and that they have the best quality of life they could possibly have. 

Leah: I think even if you live a busy life and you can't own a pet.

Like to take on that responsibility. There are so many shelters out there. I mean, everywhere in the world, there's so many animals that need support and help and attention. Yeah, and you know, the, those studies also showed like people that come to, strangers that come to a shelter and just cuddle with a dog or pet the dog for 15 minutes or take it for a walk and give it attention that that dog's heart rate improves, that it lowers its anxiety, that improves their health, its heart health and that it gives the same benefits for the, the person.

And so, go to shelters. I've done this before in LA and go volunteer to walk dogs. And they have hours every day where they, they need people to come and just walk a dog. And pet a dog for a little bit cuz they can't do it all themselves. And so I think that that's a really good, um, alternative if you can't own the dog.

Ofosu: Yeah. I didn't even know that that was a thing that you could go to a shelter and just, and just, you know, and, and just offer some loving care to, to, to an animal. 

Leah: And they're so grateful for it. 

Ofosu: Oh, that's so sweet. Yeah. Maybe I'll start there with, uh, with the little ones. I'll tell you. I grew up with, uh, with a dog.

Leo. Got him when, uh, we were, when I was 12 years old, and he lived until I was 28. So, so 16 years, is that the math? Yeah. And, um, but losing him, I just, I feel like my mom was just never got another dog after that. You know, it was just, it was too painful. She was like, I could never, she loved Leo so much. We all love Leo, like so deeply.

And Leo, oh, Leo Prancer Picasso. I love you buddy. Miss you. But yeah, even thinking about him, I couldn't. Like my mom was just like, I just can't go through that again. And I, I. I get it when I think about, I think about the long game when my kids are talking about getting a pet, and I'm just like, man, you know. But it doesn't, that's gonna happen no matter what to, to, to everything. You know, everything passes at some point.

Leah: It, it does it. I mean, and they don't like, dogs live relatively short lives. So yeah, it really teaches us about death and our fragility and letting go. Um, and, but I think what's beautiful is, um, I heard someone who was in my meditation group say that her dog, Roger, I think his name died and she, she felt so deeply the grief for him. And she said, you know, but I didn't wanna stop feeling that. She's like, it was like the ache. She's like it. I wanted to go deeper into, I wanted to feel the entirety of that, that connection that I had for him and the love and like to recognize that at the bottom of that grief was just this deep well of love, and it was a gateway into her own capacity to love and to, and that was her gateway to meditation was through that, that grief of the loss and to fill that hole that had been left with his absence, with the spirit of Roger, the spirit of that animal and all the things and the gifts that he'd given her. And so in a way, like she was honoring him by, by feeling all of that.

And you know, with time it will. When we kind of treat grief that way, I think it, um, we could really heal. And versus running from that feeling, but it's, it's like, it's not easy being human and having all the, the spectrum of emotions that we have and to feel love and to feel loss. Yeah. It's, it is what it is to be human.

And I think that, It prepares us in some ways for the inevitable of when there are human beings that we lose and into how to deal with that and how to work through that grief. And I think that's also important for children. I still have a picture on my vanity in my, my closet. Uh, in my bedroom of my first dog, Beau, that I loved that died and I, send love and warm wishes to him all the time. 

Ofosu: So I am holding back tears right now just thinking about Leo because of just how, just the depth of the love in that relationship and, and you know, being an only child, he was sometimes my. I wasn't an only child because he was there, you know, that he, he was such a close companion of mine, and he knew when I was sad and, you know, and when I was going through stuff and he would just, he just knew when to jump on my bed and just like snuggle up with me and stuff like that.

So, yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the, the concept of inter being that we all like, you know, that we're just all interconnected, you know, as, as, as beings that we, we enter our, you know, and we all have a profound impact on each other's lives. And when you go the extra step to actually make a connection with an animal.

It doesn't just enrich your life, it enrich. I think it's one really powerful to think that you're enriching that animal's life also. Through that so much goodness can arise. So. 

Leah: Well, my takeaway from this conversation is to just, yeah, spend more time looking in the eyes of my doggies and giving them a love and connection and, um, and maybe be talked into to keeping one of these. 

Ofosu: I think Leah.

I don't think you have a choice. I think one of those, I think one of those fuzzy slugs is yours. Maybe this one, yeah. Yeah, it's my favorite. Uh, I think that's, I think it's happening anyway. I'm not gonna push it. I'm not gonna push a third dog on you, but, yeah. 

Leah: Well, um, thanks for joining us and spend some time walking your own pets and connecting with your own pets and see the benefits that it brings to your life and to theirs.

Oh gosh. Let's look at this puppy one more time. 

Ofosu: Oh my gosh. Look at you, look at those little eyes. 

Leah: And if you're not already head of our tour page on YouTube or Spotify to watch the video version of this episode. And we've got links in the show notes. 

Ofosu: And if you like our show, please shout it from the rooftops.

Tell your family. Tell your friends. Tell your pets every shout out, every bark, every meow helps us grow this community. Please let folks know what's up. 

Leah: And we'll be back next week with a conversation about music that can switch your brain into a flow state, which I'm excited about. Um, until then, have a beautiful week.

Ofosu: Be kind to yourself and be kind to the animals in your life. Take care. Peace. Bye. I am gonna try to stare into the eyes of my birds. See and, uh, see if and see if, uh, see if I can. Yeah. I'll let you know how that goes.