Seldom does society look at life through the eyes of our pets. We tend to see them as mere animals, but really they do a lot more for us than we do for them. For those of you who have a pet, you may understand. I have a dog named Brandi. She’s been part of my life for the last ten years and she’s gotten me through some tough times. Not only is she my pet, she’s my companion…she’s part of my family. Have you ever imagined your life without these perceptive creatures? Many of us rely on them for much more than their cuteness.
Going back centuries, pets such as dogs have served a purpose, sometimes many purposes. For example, the Shih Tzu was highly regarded as a Temple dog in China, meant only for royalty and was also used to warm beds. Dogs are territorial and protective of their owners. They guard us, warning us that someone is near. Many have such sharp memories that they can tell the difference between the sound of one car arriving home over another. They are highly trainable and are used by police in searches to detect specific scents that humans cannot, such as hidden illicit drugs. These are some of their physical uses but they are valued for so much more.
Pets have proven to be therapeutic for people. They give unconditional love when all else fails in your life and they’re always happy to see you. This can be especially nice if you’ve had a bad day and they greet you at the door with a wagging tail, brightening a somewhat gloomy day. They relieve some of your strain and provide relaxation. A dog may give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning and get started on your day. They need to be exercised and in doing so, you also get the exercise that you need and meet new people too. They bring people together. Along the walk people stop to pet the dog and sometimes chat.
Sometimes people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), described as a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.* Some people with PTSD have discovered that having a dog keeps them grounded in the present time. When their mind wanders back into the past to an unforgettable horrifying experience that still feels real to them, a dog can bring them back to the safe reality of their current surroundings. Like a built-in mechanism, service dogs such as these are trained to sense when you’re sad and you need them most. Simply petting their soft hair or being startled by the sound of their bark is all a trauma survivor needs to bounce back to the immediacy of the moment.
As you can see, pets affect our physical, emotional and mental state. Pets have such a significant positive effect on humans that animal assisted therapy programs have been put in place in long-term care facilities, hospitals, mental health institutions, prisons and at home. For the most part these animals are dogs but other animals can also be part of treatment. For example, Peace Ranch, a place for people with serious mental health issues, offers animal-assisted therapy where people get to spend time on the ranch’s farm, petting, feeding and grooming farm animals. Caring for creatures other than ourselves can work as a form of distraction from ruminating over our own problems and negative thoughts, by replacing them with more positive experiences and interactions for us to draw on in the present.
About Rosa Dawson
I’m a 40 year old female from Ontario, Canada. I have first-hand experience with mental health. Officially diagnosed with being in the early stages of schizoaffective disorder in 2004, I struggle with depression and schizophrenia. I’ve had suicidal thoughts for many years and on a few occasions I have tried to kill myself. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Sociology, I have studied mental illness with the goal of making a positive difference in the lives of others. Looking back, although I would not know it at the time, I probably had issues at a young age. I believe society has yet to take a proactive approach to mental health. With my writing, I wish to reach as many people as possible with this message: You should not suffer in silence. You are not alone.