Have you noticed Mike and George getting about on the clinic grounds lately?
Several years ago, after a long and rewarding career in Ranger Services, Mike was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia. This meant he needed to leave the workforce early and come to terms with the new lifestyle his diagnosis forced him to lead. Newly diagnosed, Mike began to withdraw socially. He was concerned about how he may be perceived, and so spent more and more time alone.
Then Mike met George the Shih Tzu. George had lived a wild life moving from outback cattle stations to small scale sheep farming operations across WA. He was ready to embrace a slower, more suitable pace for a Shih Tzu.
With George around, Mike's day had a lot more structure. George liked to be fed at particular times, and enjoyed a daily walk around the neighbourhood; but not too far - George would start leading Mike home when they deviated from the circuit. Mike and George found faithful friends in each other. Mike had someone to share the house with during the day. George had someone to keep him company. Their friendship was featured in the local newspaper. Now, Mike and George are wandering outside of their neighbourhood to volunteer with us every Friday, cleaning out the Dog Playground and surrounding areas, making the space clean and safe for all pupperinos and their people to enjoy.
How Do Pets Help Us Heal?
George has had a massive role in improving Mike's happiness and well-being. What is it about pets that make us feel so good?
Studies have found that:
Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
While people with pets often experience the greatest health benefits, a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate.
Interacting with a pet helps us fulfil a basic human need for touch. Touch, and lack of touch, has a profound effect on the human psyche. Pets also inadvertently encourage us to live a healthier lifestyle, like getting out of bed to care for their needs, engaging in exercise and getting outdoors when we take them for walks (which can lead to us socialising - another human need!), and mirroring their desires - for example slowing down and enjoying a spot of sunshine, because your dog is doing just that. The companionship of a dog or cat can help relieve the anxiety of being alone and thus lead to a better sleep. It has been shown that isolation and loneliness lead to depression, but the introduction of the pet to a household provides a purpose for those who have lost their way a little.
Our pets encourage us to slow down and enjoy the simple things. They help us feel connected, and give us a source of joy and meaning.
Professional Therapy Pets
Some pets take their calling to help people smile to the next level, and become professional therapy pets. These pets visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools and individuals, and provide moments of joy and emotional nourishment to those in need. Professional therapy pets require training, but the training is not as intensive as that of an assistance or service dog. Any pet could be a suitable candidate! Some important criteria are:
feel comfortable in new/strange environments
enjoy meeting new people
obedient and respectful
If you're interested in pursuing accreditation for your pet, Animal Companions is a great place to start!
Pets Really Are The Best!
Having animals in our lives has been proven to enrich our experiences. If you're looking to bring a pet in to your home, so many rescue organisations have beautiful animals seeking a family to call their own. If you're not in a position to have a pet at home full-time, an organisation like Animal Companions could be a service that interests you.