Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Celebrating Your Pets With Brittany Derrenbacher
[00:00:02] PF: Welcome to Episode 352 of Live Happy Now. There’s a big holiday in February that’s all about love, and it isn’t Valentine’s Day. This week, we’re talking about National Love Your Pet Day.
I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m sitting down with Brittany Derrenbacher, a clinical mental health counseling intern and founder of Luna Bell’s Moonbows, a special needs animal rescue.
In celebration of National Love Your Pet Day on February 20th, Brittany is joining me to talk not only about what our pets do for us, but to look at how we can learn to celebrate them every day, and enrich our lives in the process.
[00:00:42] PF: Brittany, welcome back to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:45] BD: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I’m really happy to be back.
[00:00:49] PF: Well, we have National Love Your Pet Day coming up. And of course, we thought of you, because you know pets, and you know how they work. And so I really wanted to talk to you about this, because we’re all crazy about our pets. But they do so much for us that we don’t even think about. So I wondered if you could talk, first of all, about some of the gifts that our pets are giving us that we’re not even realizing.
[00:01:11] BD: Yeah. I mean, I feel like this episode should really be called like the power of pets.
[00:01:17] PF: Ooh, I like that.
[00:01:18] BD: Yeah. Because I feel like the gifts that they give us are endless. I mean, really, we could sit here and talk about this for hours, because I think even if we were able to brainstorm through just an exhaustive list, I think there’s still something that could be added to it daily, right? And I think it’s most important first to talk about the joy that they give us. I think that is the most important gift that is so unique to animals, because it’s that no strings attached kind of joy. And I think that there’s like nothing that compares to that, right? I mean, the joy of coming home to our animals.
And for those of us who work from home, I mean, I know for myself and probably for you, we’re super lucky that we get to spend time 24/7 with our pets and really soak up all the benefits.
[00:02:09] PF: Yeah.
[00:02:10] BD: But I think they also help us gain a sense of responsibility. So they’re showing us this like unconditional love. And they’re always there when we need them. So those are like kind of like the main things that you might think of when you think about, “Okay, well, what do pets give me on a daily basis?” Those are kind of the main things. But the unconditional love of a pet can do more than just keep us company, right?
[00:02:35] PF: Yeah, it’s a constant return on our investment, because it’s giving us something emotionally.
[00:02:41] BD: Right. Yeah. And that’s really like where we get into – I kind of call it like the four benefits of pets in our lives. And it crosses a couple of different boundaries, but we have mental health, and mood boosting, grounding. And that is like connected to like outdoors. Physical health, which, of course is connected to exercise. And then socialization. So those are like the four main benefits I think that animals uniquely give us.
[00:03:09] PF: That’s cool. Can we dig into each of those just a little bit?
[00:03:11] BD: Absolutely. Yeah.
[00:03:13] PF: Because I noticed mental health is first. Because, as a therapist, I guess that is always going to be forefront for you. But I thought that’s really cool, because we don’t think about the mental health improvements we get from pets.
[00:03:23] BD: Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s estimated that 68% of US households have a pet. And I think that that number is growing, especially given the circumstances that we’re in with COVID. I think a lot more people are bringing animals into their home that weren’t able to do so before. So I love that you’re having this conversation about the relationships that we have with our pets. And I think what better way to really honor the love for your pet than to have a day where we literally are talking about and spreading the message that owning a pet will change your life in more ways than just joy and love.
And I really believe that the better we understand that human animal bond, the more we can use it to improve people’s lives. So thinking of mental health, just off the top of my head, like interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol. So we’re going to get kind of scientific here.
[00:04:21] PF: We thought so.
[00:04:21] BD: I know it’s your jam. You love that. But cortisol is the body’s natural stress hormone. So just by virtue of interacting with our pets on a daily basis, we’re decreasing that, which is awesome. But it’s also really cool to know that if you sit there and pet your dog, your cat, whatever your pet is, for 15 minutes, that you’re literally releasing all of the feel good hormones into your body. So you’re sitting there. You’re petting Morocco. You’re petting Josie. 15 minutes. You’re releasing oxytocin, prolactin and serotonin all into your body just by petting your, dog which I feel like is so cool.
[00:05:02] PF: Yeah, that’s amazing. Because there’s not other ways to get it that easily, I don’t think.
[00:05:09] BD: No, I don’t think so either. And I think like just thinking about being able to pet your dog and really hokes your body into that relaxed state. This is also super helpful in lowering your blood pressure. So it’s cool to think of like our dogs and our cats can lower our blood pressure.
And I also realized, too, that you asked about mental health, and I kind of tiptoed into physical health. But even if we’re just thinking about stress, like stress is mental health, right? And so these animals that we used to associate in the past with keeping outdoors, right? Animals weren’t really considered in the past to be in home companions to humans. And now we have this understanding that animals in our pets can provide so much more to us than just having this fun dog to run around within the yard. They live in our homes, and they literally are bringing so much into our lives and nurturing our mental health, our physical health, just our overall well-being on a daily basis. And so not only do pets have the potential to decrease our stress, but they can help improve, like we were just talking about, our heart health. Like that’s incredible.
[00:06:25] PF: Yeah. And I think about how many times a day I laugh because of my dogs. And we know that laughter is so important and so cathartic. We simply don’t do it enough. And even on days when it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of things in the outside world to laugh at, they’re going to make me laugh. They are going to deliver joy no matter what else is going on.
[00:06:46] BD: Yeah. And like that deep belly laugh too, right?
[00:06:50] PF: Yeah.
[00:06:50] BD: But that goes back to those feel good hormones. And that’s something that we’re experiencing on a daily basis with our pets that I think it’s very easy to take for granted or just not even realize.
[00:07:01] PF: Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. And so what about grounding? Because grounding is something I love. It’s so important, and we don’t get enough of this. And can you talk a little bit about what it is and why it’s so important for our physical and emotional well-being?
[00:07:17] BD: Yeah. Well, I also love to talk about grounding, because I think mindfulness is kind of inherent in the work that I do. And it’s what I always try to help my clients with. But I really love to talk about how pets are our teachers.
I think about most of the life lessons that I’ve learned in my life, especially from just the animals in our rescue, they’ve all come from dogs. They’ve all come from the animals that I’ve met in my life. And especially in the compassion fatigue for animal care professionals work that I do, I really stressed the importance of what our animals can teach us. And I think that they model resiliency to us, to humans, in a way that no one else can. I mean, even if you just think of like Josie and Morocco’s story.
[00:08:02] PF: Right, right.
[00:08:04] BD: Like the resilience behind your dogs, and just where they’ve come from, and who they are now, and how interesting, and amazing, and loving they are. So there’s the resiliency in that. And I also think that they have this beautiful way of teaching as mindfulness that no book can really do or no like Buru can. But they teach us like the cheesy saying, like, “Every day is a gift,” right? That is like the ethos, especially for dogs. And I’m not minimizing cats, birds and all the other pets out there that people have. But like –
[00:08:36] PF: Have the hate mail, please.
[00:08:38] BD: Yeah, no hate mail. No. Cats are hilarious, because I think that they just have this way of like just navigating life. Doing exactly what they want to do with no shame.
[00:08:49] PF: Right. They’ll just give you that look that’s like, “You’re not going to do anything about it.”
[00:08:53] BD: Yeah. But, yeah, our pets teach us that living each day is a gift, and living our lives with loving presence. And I love thinking about that phrase, loving presence. Because I think animals know that the ultimate point of life is to enjoy it, right? Like that is why we’re here. And I think playing with our pets can take our mind away from problems, take our mind away from daily stressors, and really place this in the here and now. And that is literally like mindfulness 101, the here and now, and embracing the sacred pause. Tara Brach talks a lot about the sacred pause. And I think just that idea that truly living in the moment is such a huge gift that they give us.
[00:09:40] PF: Yeah. And sometimes we might get in the mindset of feeling like it’s frivolous to go play. But there is something very essential about that kind of frivolity and that kind of bonding that’s taking place when you are playing, and the kind of joy that it’s bringing to you.
[00:09:55] BD: Yeah. And even just thinking about that, like physical nature of that, too. Physically, our animals encourage us to move. They are often why we have a connection with the outdoors, which I do think connects to that idea of grounding too, being outside, having our feet on the earth and experiencing life outside of our home. And even on days that we don’t want to move, right? Like we don’t want to get out of bed. Life is too much. And I the past two years with COVID, it has been this way for a lot of people, just the idea of like waking up and having to face another day in the middle of a pandemic. But especially dogs, they make us move.
[00:10:41] PF: Yeah. [inaudible 00:10:41].
[00:10:42] BD: Yeah, yeah. I have to get out of bed every morning. I have to take my dogs for a walk. They need that. They need that to live and to enjoy life. And they really motivate us to play and seek adventure. So going back to that cultivation of joy that you were talking about and playing.
[00:11:02] PF: And then like you said, it forces us to be in nature. And even if your nature is in the city, and all you’re seeing is a tree at some point. But that is so healthy. And that’s so good for our mental health and our physical well-being to just get outside and be present in nature for even 10 or 15 minutes.
[00:11:20] BD: Yeah. Stopping. Smelling the roses.
[00:11:24] PF: Yeah. Picking up the poop.
[00:11:25] BD: Yeah. Stopping, taking a pause with the fire hydrant, whatever you need to do to be connected to the outside world. But even just like hiking, going to the park, walking or running through the neighborhood. For me, specifically, I love to do dog agility, and maybe even traveling. Going somewhere long distance. Packing up your animals and getting out of town. And that is something that I think is an amazing, unique thing to be able to do.
And, I think, also in thinking about this, this really promotes human socialization. I think – Yeah, like, we often talk about animal socialization, right? But animals equally give us that gift as well. And being able to go out and do things with your pets and meet other humans. I think, you, I love hearing you talk about all of the people that you’ve met through walking your dogs.
[00:12:24] PF: Right, right. That’s the thing. We’ve told people who had like, say, they moved to Nashville, and they have trouble meeting people. We’re like, “Get a dog.” You will meet everybody. You will meet more people than you actually want to meet, because it’s such a draw. And I did. I’ve met so many people and made lasting friendships with them because I was out there walking Archie. And it’s pretty incredible.
[00:12:46] BD: Yeah, I love that story. And like, for me, for agility. I’ve met so many people. And I see it’s predominantly women that are doing agility. And I think it creates this community. They all do competitions together. They will travel together doing things with their dogs, and they’re just active, and happy, and laughing, and enjoying life vicariously through and with their animals.
[00:13:13] PF: Yeah. I’d say what a tremendous way to walk through life is to – When you really recognize the value of that animal companion and can really cherish it and enjoy it.
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And now, let’s get back to my conversation with Brittany Derrenbacher and learn more about the many gifts our pets give to us.
One thing that you do that I find so important is the work that you’re doing with – You have an emotional support dog, and you’re helping others deal with trauma with a pet. Can you talk about how that works and kind of some of the work that you’re doing?
[00:14:49] BD: Yeah. This is probably, like you said, my favorite topic to discuss, because I really get to see firsthand how much animals can help humans in a handful of supportive ways regarding mental health. I love to use animals in therapy. We have a lot of special needs dogs that I think uniquely are able to teach other people lessons and teach them like really cool things about being imperfectly perfect, right?
[00:15:17] PF: Right.
[00:15:19] BD: And there are therapy animals, emotional support dogs, service dogs, psychiatric service dogs, seeing eye dogs. Like I feel like I could go on and on. Like physical rehabilitation. Animals that visit hospitals to visit children that are recovering and going through chemo treatments for cancer. There are therapy dogs as crisis intervention after traumatic events. This is something that I’m really specifically interested in, because I think it’s an incredible service that is available that most people don’t know about. And that’s that trained dog handler teams are called to sites of crisis and provide comfort, and provide stress relief, and emotional support for those that have been affected by natural disasters or mass shootings.
For example, there’s the Tree of Life synagogue shooting. They brought in a team of handlers and their dogs to provide support. This happened at Sandy Hook as well, and Virginia Tech massacre. But there’s really some wonderful research surrounding this topic. And I think that a section of human animal interaction of the American Psychological Association is really doing an amazing job of presenting on these topics and bringing awareness of understanding about the human animal interaction. And I think, for us specifically, in the work that I do, going back to Violet, she is a 40-pound bulldog with hydrocephalus.
[00:16:52] PF: Okay, tell us real quick what hydrocephalus is for people who don’t know.
[00:16:55] BD: Yeah. So hydrocephalus is literally water on the brain. And it is an accumulation of that fluid that has nowhere to go. And so you’ll kind of see like a dome-shaped skull on the animal’s head. And this is a condition that our rescue is very passionate about. It happens to humans as well. And a lot of times, dogs can have mild symptoms and live really long, beautiful lives. And sometimes it is a hospice situation where we give them the best life that they can for as long as possible.
Violet has very mild hydrocephalus. So she is doing beautifully. She’s not on any medication, and she is just absolutely wonderful. And again, like has that resiliency and is able to share such a beautiful story. But yeah, she visits nursing homes, senior memory care facilities, college campuses in the therapy room with me. And one of her favorite people to visit is a 101-year-old Holocaust survivor.
[00:17:56] PF: Oh, that’s so cool.
[00:17:56] BD: Yeah, that is incredible. He loves it. I think he’s able to really like tap into this childlike joy that he hasn’t been able to experience in a long time. And one of the first stories that he told my husband, when Violet went to visit, was that it reminded him so much of his childhood dog. And so now, when Violet goes to visit, like it is expected, like, “Where’s violet? When will she be here?” So yeah.
[00:18:22] PF: That’s fantastic. So we know that pets give us so much. Like they just give and give. And even when we don’t treat them well, and we don’t treat them as well as we should, they are still loving and they give to us. So when we’re looking at Love Your Pet Day, what can we do to be better pet parents? How can we better return that kind of affection and meet the needs of our pets?
[00:18:47] BD: I love that you asked this, because I think that we really owe it to our pets to give back to them as they give to us. That has really been like my goal in life, especially with rescue work, is to try to give back as much as possible to these animals. But I think it’s also important to even just raise that as a question, right? Like we shouldn’t just be asking what animals can do for us. We should also be asking what we can do in return for them.
And I really do believe that the most important thing that we can do is constantly provide that love and stability. Patience. Patience is really key, right?
[00:19:24] PF: Yeah. And not always easy.
[00:19:25] BD: Yeah, exactly. And positive reinforcement. I also like to tell people, like give them their time. Stop rushing them on the walks.
[00:19:35] PF: Yeah, this is a great topic. And that’s something that you and I have talked about. And I want to dig into that a little bit more, because that is so important, and it’s easy for us to forget. So like can you talk about that just a little bit? Like how can we learn to be more mindful of giving them their time and making those walks their time?
[00:19:55] BD: Yeah. And I think that’s where we can really embrace the tools that they teach us of mindfulness and being present, like taking that deep breath and saying, “Okay, I’m going to leave the house and really be in the here and now with my dog because this is their jam. This is literally what dogs are on this earth for, is to roam, and sniff, and explore, and enjoy their life.” And how many times do you – And I’m guilty of this. But how many times are you out and you see people really pulling their dogs along and they’re trying to sniff the fire hydrant? They’re trying to sniff the grass? And they’re like, “Come on, come on, come on, let’s go.” Imagine being in HomeGoods and you are in the pillow aisle, right? You’re looking at those soft throws, and then someone’s behind you like nudging you on like, “Come on, come on. Let’s go, let’s go. Hurry up. Hurry up. Hurry up.” Why would we want to do that and deprive our animals of that joy, and being able to do something that they’re just like so excited and pumped to do? I mean, that is literally [inaudible 00:20:58].
[00:21:00] PF: Yeah, yeah, because I’ve tried to get really thoughtful in terms of when I don’t take my phone with me when we go on walks anymore. And that makes a big difference. And when we were in Nashville, and we would see – At the dog park, like see people. And their dogs out there running around, and they’re just on their phone. And it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, you’re missing out on this whole opportunity to play and interact before you go lock your dog up in an apartment again.” So that’s one thing. I’ve ditched the phone on the walks. And I really tried to take it. Like when they stop and are sniffing, it’s like really use it a time to take a breath and really like start looking at my surroundings. Like let me be as inquisitive as they are about what does the air smell like today? And what is the sky doing? And it really makes a huge difference in resetting your day when you go back to your office.
[00:21:50] BD: Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s like literally doing a body scan in nature with your dog, right? And I love that you mentioned putting the phone away and just, again, incorporating that loving presence that we talked about earlier. I think, for me, uniquely, I’m often having the conversation on the other side with people because I specialize in pet loss grief. And I often am having conversations with people about what they wish they had done, and that they would do anything to be back in those moments with their animals.
And so I think that’s something that’s important to keep in mind, too, is like really allowing ourselves to enjoy these moments when they’re given to us and be present, and just connect with our animals, and just embrace the beauty of life, and not be stuck in a situation in the future where we are analyzing this should have, would have, could haves.
[00:22:46] PF: Right. Yeah. Because I know some times we’re given notice that we’re losing a pet. And sometimes it happens very quickly. And I’ve had it go both ways. And I had one that I lost very quickly, and it was like, “Oh, my gosh, if I had known that was my last walk with her, I would have walked for an hour.” I just would not have stopped.
[00:23:06] BD: Endlessly. Yeah.
[00:23:07] PF: Yeah. And so I think that’s a great mindset to have. Not that, “Oh, my pet is going to die.” But like I have to look at every moment I have, every chance I have to interact with them as a valuable one.
[00:23:18] BD: Yeah. And I think like now there’s science behind it, right? There’re so many studies that have been done showing what animals can do for us, just reducing the loneliness and increasing the social support, boosting our moods. Literally saving lives in regards to depression and grief. And we are given an opportunity every day to embrace all of those unique gifts and qualities that animals can give us. And like why would we not embrace that and soak it up every chance?
[00:23:50] PF: That’s right. That’s terrific. So yeah, so we have this one day where we’ll talk about Love Your Pet Day. But I think it’s a great practice to be able to enter every day as Love Your Pet Day. So what would be like your advice? How do we keep that top of mind so that we really do change that relationship with our pet?
[00:24:12] BD: Yeah. I really think just embracing that animals don’t ask for much in life, and are the gifts that keep on giving. And they also teach us to be better humans, right? They teach us to navigate life in a smarter, more beautiful way. And so just continuing to talk about how awesome life is with animals and how amazing the human animal bond is. That’s what I love to talk about, is the bond that we have with our animals. It’s just so incredible. And it’s unlike anything in life. And even just having conversations like this where maybe someone will listen to this podcast and say, “You know what? I’m going to go to my nearest shelter, and I’m going to adopt a dog today, because I want to like live life with this kind of joy.” Like that is a unique gift. And that is a message worth spreading.
[00:25:08] PF: That’s excellent. Brittany, you always have so much to say about pets, and you’re doing such incredible work with humans and animals. So we’re going to, of course, have our landing page and let them learn more about you and where they can find out about some of the work that you’re doing. But thank you. Thank you for coming back and talking pets with us.
[00:25:25] BD: Yeah, thank you.
[00:25:30] PF: That was Britney Derrenbacher, talking about how pets benefit us and what we can do to enrich their lives. If you’d like to learn more about Brittany and the work that she’s doing, just visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.