Eco-Human Theory and Practice
ISSN 2713 – 184x
Eco Art Therapy
Ecological Education
The "Green" Arts


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Carolina Herbert 

PHD, is an arts psychotherapist, supervisor, educator and celebrant with over 20 years experience working with people, organisations and communities in post-conflict and conflict environments. As a singer/songwriter and photographer, Carolina has a passion for how the expressive arts can support us and enable us to be resilient and respond to the complex challenges we face in our world today.


In this photo essay, Carolina Herbert explores her passion and connection with animals and the intimate and unconditional relationships they have with people. As she collects images and stories from people in her local community, she learns how vitally important animals are in people’s lives and the roles they play in supporting wellbeing, mental health, healing from trauma, depression and isolation. How they bring joy and play into the lives of families and teach children about loss and letting go. Animals connect us more deeply to what matters between us and to who we really are. She explores how animals also need our unconditional care and support especially when injured and how we can learn the gift of being able to deeply listen, attune and respond to their needs. In times when we are increasingly separated from our natural world, and, as animals’ lives are threatened in our escalating climate crisis, there is no greater time than now to restore our relationships to these unconditional love and joy bringing beings.

Keywords:  animals, nature, community


“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened”

Anatole France1

My relationship with animals began from a very early age. Horses, a donkey, rabbits, gerbils, fish, dogs, cats and ducks filled our lives as children, I think my mother secretly wanted to have a farm. We spent most of our time as children outside, we grew vegetables and took care of the animals. I remember the intensity of watching ‘Spitfire,’ our Shetland pony’s foal being born and then the amazement of how quickly he got up before zooming around the field at such a high speed that earned him his name. My horse Shamrock was my friend and faithful companion throughout my teenage years. Every day we would go off on adventures around the beaches and cliffs of the rugged Gower Coastline in Wales. Animals were part of our family. The hardest lesson was when they died and we needed to bury and let go of them. They taught me about the cycle of life and death. This forged in me a deep love and respect for animals and a fascination with our intimate connection to them. In this photo essay I will share with you some stories of such loving, intimate and magical connections I have found between animals and people in my community around me.  


Ella, is my mum’s cocker spaniel. I go swimming with her and we become like selkies, playmates in the ocean. It’s as if everything else goes into a timeless state, in these moments we are not separate beings we are salty sea sisters. Every now and then Ella climbs onto my back for a rest which always makes me smile inside out. Ella has created delightful memories for me and every time I visit, I am met by an unconditional outpouring of excitement in her full body shake wild welcome. Ella confronts me to keep alive how I can greet my loved ones with such unashamed enthusiasm and boundless unconditional love. “Animals are reliable, many full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to2.


Photo 1:  Ella and Carolina

For my mum Ella has been a life saver, helping her to be out in nature every day. Ever since having a brain hemorrhage and a stroke, mums’ dogs have been by her side not only helping her to recover but supporting her to be out in nature and rebuilding community. “Even if I can’t walk far on my own it helps me to go out into the village. I meet so many people and Ella is a people loving dog, she makes friends with anyone she meets and everyone loves her”. Mum makes friends through these interactions and it’s hard to get very far on a walk with all the many people she now knows. As I was asking if she wanted to share more mum, stated “she can talk you know we have many conversations. Life would be very quiet without her”. Its maybe because of these conversations that they have a magical bond and understanding. Citing A.A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh, Benjamin Hoff3 in The Tao of Pooh explains, “lots of people talk to animals… not very many listen, though….that’s the problem”.


Photo 2:  Ella with Hazel Herbert


Willow, is a 14-year-old Ragdoll cat. She is waiting patiently on Helena’s bed for a treat. “She greets me at the door and when I pick her up, she presses her paw into my nose.” They have such a deep affection and understanding between each other.

Helena shares how Willow, a loyal cat with a big character, loves contact and touch. It’s like they are woven together in a flowing tapestry of love. “How has she helped you recover from your accident?” I ask. Helena had a life -threatening horse-riding accident which has left her with a severe brain injury, visual impairment and chronic neurological pain, plus many daily challenges of living.

“Willow has helped me so much. When I first came out of hospital, I had to rest in bed a lot during the day. She would insist on coming under the covers and curl up, purr with satisfaction and keep me warm. It was so comforting and reassuring.

Even now, four years later, when I am due to have my afternoon rest, she waits by my pillow until I get into bed and then curls up on my chest. She also sleeps with me every night.

Everyone knows Willow and she is frequently seen on zoom! Helena and Willow are inseparable. “When I first came home, after seven months in hospital, and saw Willow, she looked at me with her big blue eyes and it was as if she was saying you’re alive”!


Photo 3:  Willow Waiting                                        


Photo 4:  Willow and Helena

She was in my friends arms and I bent over and kissed her on the head - she meowed. My friend then kissed her – there was no reaction.  I repeatedly kissed and she meowed in response every time. It was like a deep reflection to me that I was still alive. I had survived”.

This was a turning point for Helena, a special moment that helped her to see that she was not only alive but could begin the next part of her healing journey. It is true that “an animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great.4


Dexter is a Dachschund in the lives of Jo, Stu, Lili and Charlie my godson.  

“As my first dog, Dexter is the best. He always is there when you're walking about and when you're sad he nestles his chin in the crook of your legs. He is perfect ❤️” (Charlie Land).

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Photo 5: Dexter and Charlie

“Dexter is the missing piece of our family puzzle. He completes us. My son had wanted a dog since he was two and came up with many compelling reasons why we should have one. I was reticent having been struggling with depression and balancing an already busy life and despite having grown up with many pets including dogs wasn’t sure if I was a ‘doggy person’. After much agonising and discussion of what to have and if and when, we chose him and have not regretted it for a second. He has been a joy every day. He is so full of love and life, and humour and character, and such compassion. He made me walk when I didn’t feel like going out. He made me see colour in the rain. He made me sit with him and just be. He licks the children’s tears when they cry and he knows instinctively when you need him. He’s horribly barky with other dogs on walks, I’d change that, but otherwise he is a complete and utter blessing to us and we all adore him!” (Jo Land)

Dogs have a powerful way of understanding what someone needs. In animal assisted therapy dogs are used to support people with a whole array of challenges from anxiety to severe mental health problems. As I witness the healing power of animals in my friends and community around me and how they help us navigate the daily challenges of life, I am imagining all the prevention of mental health challenges that happens as a result of their unconditional love and warmth. The intentional use of animals in therapy has had powerful results and has been documented widely in the literature from helping to diagnose, support and treat a whole range of mental health illnesses from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia5. In an article on The Healing Power of Animals Cody Zaiontz explains how therapy animals are used today in a variety of settings including inpatient treatment facilities, schools for children with special needs and residential substance abuse treatment programmes.


Photo 6: Dexter

Zaiontz describes a poignant example of how animals can support humans in the middle of an emergency situation. “The day after the tragic shooting at an Elementary School in Texas, trained animal therapists and their therapy dogs were onsite to assist children, adults, community members, law enforcement, and anyone struggling to process the traumatic event. Tears turned to smiles as the 10 or so therapy dogs, wearing red vests indicating their role, walked through crowds and provided much-needed love. It truly was animal assisted therapy at its best. It showed just how quickly the kindness of an animal can help a person move toward healing."5 

From service animals who support the visually impaired or keep those with epilepsy safe. To horses that are used in equine therapy to support people returning from war to recover from PTSD. Animals have profound healing forces, when we can learn to trust and feel safe in their presence, we can realise that we all need each other on this planet.

From service animals who support the visually impaired or keep those with epilepsy safe. To horses that are used in equine therapy to support people returning from war to recover from PTSD. Animals have profound healing forces, when we can learn to trust and feel safe in their presence, we can realise that we all need each other on this planet.

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Photo 7: Dexter and Jo Land

Bella, Nella and Ella  

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day” John Grogan6


Photo 8: Evalina and Ella (Photo by Gini Hearth),


Photo 9: Gini and Bella


Photo 10: Nella


Photo 11: Sol, Gini and Nella

Meet Bella, Nella and Ella – three chickens in the family of Gini, Evalina, Sol, Jackson, Ruari and Ernie. Bella is the white one, Nella is the dark one and Ella is the grey one.

“We love the chickens so much because they are very social, curious, and ever so funny.  They greet us as soon as we come home, and they come running to the back door whenever we leave the house.  They even come in the house if we leave the door open! They sit on the kitchen windowsills, watching us cook, eagerly waiting for the leftovers.  They go into their coop by themselves and are waiting eagerly in the morning for us to let them out.  They give us a present every day in the form of an egg, and make us go on an egg hunt as they lay in all sorts of secret places around the garden”.

“My children helped raise these chicks. They were just a day old.  They were so cute and fluffy and made the sweetest sound.  They lived in the house for the first 6 weeks of their lives, and so we have a very strong attachment.  When we blended our family and moved in together, Ernie, my partner’s son was initially scared of the chickens but over time he has grown to love them, and carries them round cuddling them.  Sometimes the children play with them, and the chickens are so amenable. It's hilarious to see Sol pulling children and chickens around in a cart!”

“They have an extra special meaning for me personally because I grew up with chickens. When I was living in London, I wasn't able to have chickens, and I longed for my children to grow up in a similar way to me.  I have always valued my relationships to animals and my connection to nature.  I feel happy and grateful every day that I have managed to achieve this and see the impact and difference it is making to my children’s lives” (Gini Hearth).


“True compassion is showing kindness towards animals,

without expecting anything in return” 

Paul Oxton7

Whilst I have witnessed the powerful healing benefits of equine therapy, I had not come across a person first hand working to support the healing of animals. It was humbling and mesmerizing to watch Alison Redgrove an Equine Shiatsu Therapist work with Pony. Pony is severely and chronically lame and reluctant to let anyone near him or his injured leg. There was a still silence and what felt like a sacred communion between them both. A deeper listening as Alison responded to what Pony was asking for as she gentle moved her hands through meridian lines and pressure points, rebalancing and realigning the energetics of the horses’ system. Her aim was to support Pony to move out of his anxious high alert stress response to promote healing and the flow of energy back into balance. Pony began to calm, as if going into a meditative rest, eyes closing and head bowing as if surrendered to Alison’s skilled sensitive touch. Occasionally, they would pause and she would talk and listen to what he was wanting more of. It was as if they were having an invisible conversation, he was asking, she was responding and as he received her touch more and more calm surrounded him.


Photo 12: Building trust – Pony and Alison

He turned his head for a moment and went close to Alison’s face. She tenderly kissed his nose and then he kept turning away and coming back again kiss after kiss until he rested even more deeply. It was so moving and magical to see this interaction. His wild and soft eyes meeting hers as if they knew each other’s souls. His owner and I were still and silent, in a kind of trance like awe of witnessing this intimate exchange. To see the trust restoring as Pony allowed Alison to work on his lame leg was truly profound. It was clear that Alison was having a profound impact on Pony and I asked Alison what the impact was on her.

“Working with horses like Pony in its essence is ‘bliss’! I feel utterly blessed and privileged that these beautiful immensely strong sentient beings not only trust me but allow me as a stranger to work on them for their comfort and wellbeing” (Alison Redgrove).

“Animals are the bridge between us and the beauty of all that is natural. They show us what’s missing in our lives and how to love ourselves more completely and unconditionally. They connect us back to who we are and to the purpose of why we’re here.”8 


Photo 13: Gratitude

It has been a profoundly moving experience creating this photo essay, and I feel like I have only scratched the surface of hearing a few of the many hundreds of people’s lives touched by animals in the local community around me. Animals as witnesses, healers, companions are demonstrators of unconditional love and warmth. They are also in need of our care and when injured need our healing support. They show us that we are not separate and confront us to aspire to live in a world where mutual respect, appreciation and love is needed to be given to them and all living beings. When we turn back to this sacred knowing we perhaps begin to restore the critically needed equilibrium and harmony in our planet. One where we are not destroying or dominating over another, but being alongside, listening and mutually caring for one another.

Many thanks to the participants of this photo essay and the permissions given for the sharing of these images and an insight into their intimate worlds of animals.

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3 Hoff B. The Tao of Pooh, Chapter: Spelling Tuesday, Quote Page 29, - E.P. Dutton, New York, 1982.


5 Zaiontz C. The healing power of animals // Psychiatric Times, 2002. Retrieved on 5th August 2023




Reference for citations

Herbert, C. (2023). ‘Unconditional’: Our intimate and healing connections with animals. A photo essayEcopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 4(2). [open access internet journal]. – URL: (d/m/y)


About the journal

In accordance with the Law of the Russian Federation on the Mass Media, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) on September 22, 2020, the web-based publication - The peer-reviewed scientific online journal "Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice" was registered (registration number El No. FS77-79134).

“Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice” is the international multidisciplinary Journal focused on building an eco-human paradigm, disseminating eco-human knowledge and technology based on the alliance of ecology, humanities and the arts. Our journal aims to be a vibrant forum of theories and practices aimed at harmonizing the relations of mankind and the natural world in the interests of sustainable development, the creation of Eco-Humanity as a new community of human beings and more-than-human world. The human being is an ecological being, not separate from the world. The Ecopoiesis journal is based on that premise and aims to develop a body of theory and practice within that framework.

The Journal promotes dialogue and cooperation between ecologists, philosophers, doctors, educators, psychologists, artists, musicians, designers, social activists, business representatives in the name of eco-human values, human health and well-being, in close connection with concern for the environment. The Journal supports the development and implementation of new environmentally-friendly concepts, technologies and practices in the various fields of health and public life, education and social work.

One of the priority tasks of the Journal is to demonstrate and support the significant role of the arts in their alliance with ecology and the humanities for the restoration and development of constructive relations with nature, raising environmental awareness and promoting nature-friendly lifestyles.

The Journal publishes articles describing new eco-human concepts and practices, technologies and applied research data at the intersection of humanities, ecology and the arts, as well as interviews and conference reports related to the emerging eco-human field. It encourages artwork, music and other creative products related to eco-human practices and the new global community of Eco-Humanity.