All of us have times when we want to be pampered. For some, that means a few hours at a day spa or a hike in the great outdoors. But another option is now available, courtesy of a farm in upstate New York: cow cuddling.
Mountain Horse Farm offers visitors a “Horse & Cow Experience.” The “experience” consists of spending quality time petting, brushing, and even cuddling the animals. According to the website Healthy Food House, cow cuddling is “the hottest [wellness] trend of the moment.”
And it isn’t cheap: $300 for a ninety-minute cuddle, but the potential benefits are considerable, we’re told. “Cuddling with animals has shown to reduce stress and help us bond with nature.” The horses and cows at Mountain Horse Farms can, and I quote, “feel your happiness, sadness or anxiety . . . these animals will respond to you without any judgment.”
The results will be “relaxation, healing, awareness, comfort, and mindfulness,” and improved “assertiveness and confidence.”
Cow cuddling is one example of a larger, and still growing, trend. Increasingly, people are looking for emotional support from animals, instead of from each other. Another example is “goat yoga,” which is exactly what it sounds like: “yoga practiced in the presence of — and in tandem with — live goats.”
The goal of “goat yoga” “isn’t to sweat. It’s to have a baby goat climb on your shoulders during your plank,” a position that resembles the top of a pushup. According to the L.A.Times, all of that bleating cuteness promotes emotional and physical wellness.
And of course, the sheer number of “emotional support animals” joining us in supermarket aisles or crowded airplanes has led to, let’s say, challenges. United Airlines recently announced it is limiting “emotional support” animals to dogs and cats. That policy change came in response to complaints from passengers and crew members about all of the “emotional support” pigs, turkeys, ducks, and even a peacock or two biting people and soiling the cabin.
Today, the proliferation of emotional support animals in all forms and places highlights a real and growing problem across Western culture: loneliness and a lack of connection with other people.
We are, as former Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy put it, in the midst of a “loneliness epidemic,” which is causing a “reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s greater than the impact on life span of obesity.”
The cure for loneliness, however, isn’t “company,” it’s connection. Many of our greatest ills, such as addiction and depression, can be traced back to a lack of meaningful connection to other people. Societies like ours are loneliness-producing machines. Because of our obsession with individualism and autonomy, the average American has gone from having three close friends, on average, to just one.
Because, as one commentator described, “far too many of us [are] alienated, anxious, despairing, and lost,” we find ourselves paying $300 to cuddle with a cow or carry ducks around for emotional support.
And let’s be clear. Though I have not seen any church-sponsored goat yoga groups– yet– Christians are not immune to the “loneliness-producing machine” that is our culture, or the worldview that fuels it. Still, we of all people should understand the God-given created need for connectedness. And that the church has an opportunity to offer to the world a community of connected people, connected with our Creator and with each other, like no other institution across our society can.
So if you are attending a church, become more active in that church. If you are not currently attending church, find one and volunteer some of your time…your health may depend on it and it sure beats cuddling a cow!