“I can write a full volume on my budgie,” says a rather excited Nicola Ellegaard, a Dubai-based Danish expat, who named her Public Relations agency after the bird. Budgie is short for budgerigar, a kind of parakeet, but Ellegaard fondly prefers to call her little friend a budgie.
Ellegaard found her budgie in a post Covid-recovery aftermath and after losing her job. Yet, this difficult time was made easier by spending the day with Baby Blue, as the budgie is named. “I spent all day, waiting for him to step up on my hand or finger,” she remembers. The connection wasn’t without hitches; after he moved into a bigger cage, he took a while to trust her again. Yet, she managed to win him over again. After watching several videos of budgie training, she learnt how to train him with millet and snacks. Finally, he emerged from the cage and began to explore the living room.
Quickly, the two established a world that no one else would grasp. She would whistle tunes; he would mimic. She would talk to him throughout the day, and as a result he picked up several words. “One day, I suddenly heard him say, ‘Hi Baby Blue, what are you doing?’ I couldn’t believe it.” Till date, the little budge experiments with new sentences and now has a vocabulary of over 90 words.
This relationship, and dynamic has had a calming effect on Ellegaard. It’s a family of two in their little Dubai-based flat. “He can sense if I am not feeling well. If I get a coughing fit, he flies to me and checks if I am okay. I rarely have bad days anymore,” she says. “I can’t imagine life without him.”
It’s the same emotion for Dubai-based Rebecca Rees. Happy with her two Saluki mixed breeds, she too, has a rather profound connection with her dogs. “Their ability to sense tension, stress and worry is unbelievable: I was recently unwell when severe anxiety and a nasty virus hit me all at once, and the dogs were a major support,” she says.
She’s also rather moved by their unspoken connection with each other. The two dogs know when something’s amiss with the other. “Sam, my male dog, is 16 now, so old age and regular trips to the vets are, unfortunately, setting in. When he had to stay at the vet’s for a day last week, Ella, his partner in crime, was incredibly down. However, she perked up again when he came home. Having been together for 13 years now, the pair of them are like an old married couple – very used to one another and out of sorts when they aren’t together,” she says. There’s something rather overwhelming about this kind of loyalty, she feels.
As UAE residents explain, our connection to our animal friends is rather deeply profound and unspoken. What’s it about them that make us so emotional?
It’s a curious love language that we share, as experts explain.
Animals aren’t human, that’s the best thing about them
There’s a sense of simplicity being around animals. There’s no societal pressure and expectation weighing on you, according to Ana Maria Gomez, a psychologist at Dubai-based Sage Clinics. There is no need to talk like we do to other humans; just that cuddle and touch feels like therapy, she says. There’s no fear of overburdening ourselves like we do with others, or worrying about being misunderstood.
“This simplicity allows for a more straightforward and uncomplicated connection, as it relies on physical touch, eye contact and body language,” she says. Moreover, they’re completely dependent on humans, which trigger our protective instincts, she says. “We feel a deep sense of connection with creatures that rely on us for care and sustenance. Animals often reciprocate with affection, loyalty, and a unique bond. This reciprocal relationship fosters emotional connections,” says Gomez.
We feel a deep sense of connection with creatures that rely on us for care and sustenance. Animals often reciprocate with affection, loyalty, and a unique bond. This reciprocal relationship fosters emotional connections
Many of us put animals before people as we see them as rather innocent and defenceless; they need to be cared for. It’s this innocence that draws us closer to them, she adds.
Dubai-based Saranya Rustagi echoes this sentiment. She was never a cat person, and had no plans to be one. However, after her daughter “pestered” her to adopt a cat, she unwillingly did. Another sick and injured kitten wandered into their lives and garden later, and the family nursed the kitten back to health. “The plan was to nurse him back to good health and then re-home him. But that never happened. He’s three-legged, but he’s living his best life,” she says. As a result, the two ginger cats have found a comfortable home with the family. “Both these cats are affectionate, funny, and complete stress busters. My only regret is that I waited all these years to adopt a cat,” she says.
For those who have furry friends at home, you know the joy of stroking, scratching and hugging them. It’s a stress buster.
Believe it or not, there are even scientific reasons behind these reduced levels of stress. As Maithili Ramakrishnan, a Dubai-based psychologist explains, when you cuddle your pet, it stimulates the brain’s production of the love hormone - oxytocin.
“Oxytocin has a range of benefits, which include slowing down our heart rate and blood pressure. More importantly, it prevents the rise of cortisol, the stress hormone. This feeling is connected with building trust and feeling safe,” she adds. Cuddling our pets also increases the level of dopamine – the happiness hormone, which revitalises us and helps us to focus, she says.
A lesson in unconditional love
Maybe the best thing about animals is that they aren’t human, as strange as that sounds. As many UAE residents agree, they are non-judgmental. There’s no what-if around them. As Dubai-based Chris Fernando an Indian expat says, “They are just unconditional in showing their love. They don’t judge you.” Fernando himself had rescued a cat named Oreo, three years ago. “He’s now a member of the family. Maybe people find it hard to understand the family member part, but you really need to have a pet, to understand that feeling.”
Shoa Mukerji, an Abu Dhabi homemaker amusedly recalls how her six-year-old son told off someone for calling their dog, a dog. “He snapped at our neighbour who had a problem with our dog. He yelled back, ‘This isn’t a dog; this is Fido. He’s family’,” she says.
That’s the truth for most people who have animals at home: They’re family. For some, they’re more family than actual family.
Thirty-three-year-old Diana Brian has a rather emotional story in this respect. A Dubai-based Canadian expat, she recalls her relationship with her dog, Toffee. “I had him for over 13 years. I got him as a puppy, and he was closest to me, more than anyone else in my family. When he was over four years old, he had a bad fall, and after that, he was partially paralysed. He couldn’t walk properly, but he still would try running to me. Yet, even if he was in pain and discomfort, he never showed it, or whined. He just waited for me to return from work, because he only wanted me to take him out for a walk. He was always by my side, whenever I was unwell or depressed, lying at the foot of my bed,” she says. Brian feels that she learnt what pure, unconditional love was from Toffee, something she had not experienced properly before. “Let’s just say that I have had a very difficult personal life with broken relationships, and Toffee was the first to make me realise that love didn’t have any conditions attached to it,” she says.
It has been four years since Toffee passed away, a void that can never be filled. “I don’t like it when someone calls him a ‘pet’ or an animal; he was a real family member. And I think he will always be,” she says.