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Comfort for Critters

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Let Your Pets Help

As any pet-parent will tell you, when a pet enters your life, it’s never the same - and that’s a good thing. It’s a hard thing to explain to someone who has never experienced life with a four-footed friend. During this current crisis, I know I have appreciated my pets even more! I’ve heard this over the past month or so from countless volunteers, and it just re-affirms my commitment to helping all the pets that are in shelters. Getting them into loving homes is truly the best for them, but it’s also the best for the lucky families who will adopt them!

A survey by the “Pets for the Elderly Foundation” found numerous, real-life examples of how pets make our lives better. For the elderly these included lower blood pressure, fewer doctor visits and less depression. They also found, and this is true for everyone, that pets help us feel less lonely, make us more active, and shower us with unconditional love.

One of the researchers even said that “pets are the same as sunshine and vitamins!” It seems that’s just what we all need right now! A similar study by the American Institute for Preventative Medicine also illustrated some of the benefits of pet companionship. I  share these below, in light of the social-distancing we are all experiencing:

  • Pets give a person a “little life” to care for. Take the time to enjoy this and remind yourself just how valuable you are to the little “critters” in your life.
  • Pets offer non-judgmental acceptance. They don’t care that you’ve lived in “sweats” for the past week, or the gray in your hair is showing through. Embrace this acceptance as you would extra cuddle time.
  • Pets decrease feelings of isolation, which is especially critical now. Talk to your pets (I know I do!) and cry into their fur if you must. They are awesome companions and can be wonderful therapists.
  • Pets provide a feeling of safety if you’re living alone. Spoil them for being right there by your side through this crisis!
  • Especially now, pets give you a reason to go outside. Take them for walks, let them run around the yard, enjoy whatever the weather is … together.

One of my favorite groups, HABRI (the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute), report that 74% of pet owners feel that having a pet has improved their mental health. I think that statistic is low! Just consider these unique ways your pet comforts you, especially when you’re social-distant from other humans.

Comfort – Pets remind you that despite what you may be feeling, you are NOT alone.

Routine – This aspect of living with a pet, can promote mental health, especially now that everything seems to be changing. Having a regular schedule and daily responsibilities, can really help stabilize you, when the world turns upside down.

Activity – Pets can help us see past our present circumstances, encouraging us to get active! A renewed sense of purpose can be found in caring for a pet, even if it just means feeding them or cleaning up their messes. Taking a dog for a long walk is healthy for you physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

Distraction – Rumination can be a big player in depression. A pet can break that cycle, by just being themselves. Watching a relaxed kitty curl up in the sunshine, or seeing a dog race out the back door after a squirrel (again!), can break the cycle of negative thoughts. There’s likely to be a food dish that needs filling or a paw that needs wiping, to continue the distraction!

Physical touch – Hugs and handshakes may be a “no-no” for people right now, but not for our pets. It’s been shone repeatedly that stroking a dog or cat can lower blood pressure, heart rate and (related to depression) boost levels of serotonin and dopamine. The physical touch of a cat, curling up at your side, or a Labrador Retriever doing their famous “lean”, is a treat reserved for those of us lucky enough to share our home with a pet.

Coming on the heels of this virus, may be mental health issues we all should watch out for. Allow your pets to “lean in” to your feelings and give you the physical contact you may be missing right now. Remember that animals have access to many more scents and sounds than humans. They are unique in their ability to pick up indicators which tell them we are stressed. Just as we happily work to help them, support them, care for them each day….allow them to return the favor, and get us all through this crisis together.

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