There's that wonderful line in Measure for Measure. I forget which of the characters has committed adultery and is going to die. He looks at his hand and says, "How could this die?" That's the joke. I've always thought, and this is nothing new, that we don't really believe we die. I think you're going to die, because I know that's what happens but I can't imagine I'm going to die.
Loving the self, to me, begins with never ever criticizing ourselves for anything. Criticism locks us into the very pattern we are trying to change. Understanding and being gentle with ourselves helps us to move out of it. Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn't worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
Animals are like autistic savants. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that animals might actually be autistic savants. Animals have special talents normal people don't, the same way autistic people have special talents normal people don't; and at least some animals have special forms of genius normal people don't, the same way some autistic savants have special forms of genius. I think most of the time animal genius probably happens for the same reason autistic genius does: a difference in the brain autistic people share with animals.