• Expert By Experience

Pets & Mental Health, A Love Story : Unconditional Love

Written by Ananya Rao-Middleton

My cat Tickles would wait for me every day after school. When we lived in North London, she would wait by the park for me to run with her back home. On the Isle of Wight, she would diligently sit at the front of our driveway for me. She was my confidant, and my best friend. When I was lonely, she gave me solace. When I wanted to pretend I was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she was my loyal cat side-kick. When I was bullied at school, she made me forget what it felt like to be a social outcast. Pets are so much more than just creatures we house in our homes - they can create unconditional happiness, joy and love in a world that can often be so very cruel.

I had the most incredible bond with my cat Tickles, who I grew up with from the age of 5, until we had to put her down after I’d just turned 25.

Tickles and I were inseparable growing up. As a child, I would tell her all my secrets and fears. She would listen attentively, and I was tempted to believe that she could understand me. While I grew out of the idea that she could understand what I was saying, to this day I believe that people can create very strong emotional bonds with animals. These emotional bonds are not just one way, I think that animals are capable of loving us too!

My relationship with Tickles has taught me so much about love, and in particular the power of unconditional love.

Unconditional love as a concept can be somewhat controversial - between people, it can be an indicator of an unequal or toxic relationship. Between human and animal however, unconditional love is not complicated by human baggage. Tickles’ unconditional love towards me gave me a space to fall back into when life was hard. Where other things in my life felt uncertain, unknown and painful, Tickles’ unconditional love felt simple, clear and certain. I am certain that it saved me in some of my darker moments.

I think that it is this unconditional love between human and animal that facilitates a great environment for mental healing.

In a time where the demands of capitalism has engulfed us in a crisis of mental health, it is becoming even more important to nurture clear, meaningful bonds with others - including animals.

For me, part of the healing I experienced through my relationship with Tickles was the fact that I knew what she expected of me, and I knew what she would give me. It felt uncomplicated and easy, unlike many other aspects of my life (like navigating school, or my early 20s).

I am grateful that I was able to experience this bond with Tickles growing up, I think we have so much to learn from these kinds of relationships and I have no doubt that I would have grown into a very different person without her.