The Healing Power of Pets

by Kristin von Kreisler

After a stressful day, I went to visit my friend Patty. She wrapped her Chihuahua, Lucy, in a blanket and set her on my lap. I petted her and watched her eyelids sag closed as she fell asleep with her chin resting on my knee. In a few minutes, she’d smoothed my rough, ragged edges and made me relax. Fur therapy, I call it. It’s the healing power of pets.

I’ve interviewed countless people who have told me about their kitty nuzzling their neck and licking away their tears, or their dog putting his head in their lap, the best he could hug them without hands or arms. One woman was going through chemo, and, discouraged and exhausted, she fell asleep on her sofa. When she woke, she was covered with Frisbees, tennis balls, stuffed animals, a squeaky carrot, and a rubber duck. Her dog, Chuckles, had brought her the entire contents of his toy basket to cheer her. She said, “He gave me everything he had.”

Animals’ soothing presence has been shown to decrease cortisol, a stress hormone, and to increase dopamine and serotonin, hormones associated with wellbeing and calm. Fur therapy also lowers our blood pressure and heart rates. Hospital patients visited by dogs and cats report less pain, and people with cats at home have 40 percent less risk of a heart attack.

The sound frequency of cat purrs can help heal infections, soft tissue injuries, and even broken bones – to say nothing of frayed nerves. No wonder Florence Nightingale brought animals to mental hospitals, and handlers arrived at Sandy Hook with golden retrievers like Hope to comfort the terrified children.

In A Reason for Hope, I’ve tried to show that same comforting and healing. It’s a magical process that all of us who love animals have probably experienced. Hope is a healer like none other. I hope you will enjoy her story.

For animal lovers and fans of The Art of Racing in the Rainthis heart wrenching yet uplifting novel from the bestselling author of An Unexpected Grace tells of one woman’s journey to healing and love after trauma—through the devotion of an unforgettable yellow Lab named Hope.

On San Julian Island, across Puget Sound from Seattle, Tessa Jordan works as a bookmobile librarian, recommending books and poems to her patrons. In her spare time, she cares for a colony of feral cats. But Tessa’s simple, satisfying life is shockingly upended after she meets Nick Payne, a respected community leader, and he invites her to dinner.

Far from a pleasant first date, Tessa’s evening with Nick leaves her feeling confused and upset. After deep soul-searching, she decides to step forward and accuse him of assault. Her distress grows when local prosecutor Will Armstrong declines to pursue her case, citing lack of evidence. Her main solace is Hope, a courthouse dog, trained to comfort victims through the difficult judicial process. As she lays her head in Tessa’s lap, her gentle brown eyes seem to say, Don’t worry. Everything will be all right. 

Will, who is Hope’s primary handler, longs to get justice for Tessa, yet knows how rocky the path will be. It’s Hope who, true to her name, shines a bright ray through the darkness. With Hope by their side, Will and Tessa find surprising strength in each other as they learn just how resilient a heart—whether human or canine—can be.