Animals are simply amazing! There are endless stories about animals that have made a huge impact on the world. A dog going to outer space, a carrier pigeon that helped fight World War I, along with all the animals like camels, oxen, and horses that have helped people throughout centuries. Now, I don’t have experience with pigeons (although I really don’t like birds, those bastards are very erratic) or camels, but I do have some experience with horses, and a lot of experience with dogs which we will get to (as I type this, my dog is jumping all over my keyboard, sorry if there are any mistakes – I am blaming my dog on this one! My sister has a horse who I have this amazing connection with and who loves hugs and kisses and loves to be brushed. I didn’t have the greatest 2019 when it came to my health; panic attacks were intense, depression was beating me down, and I had many moments of “this is kicking my ass, and I’m tired of fighting”. BUT, back to why horses are amazing … my sister would say let’s head to the barn – Asha needs to be groomed. This was her way of helping me through the pain I was experiencing. I was slowly learning how horses, much like dogs can sense when someone needs some extra love.
My own story
Let me start by sharing a little of my story with you. I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety at 27. I think it was 10 years before that to be honest, but I was diagnosed then. Things have greatly improved since then, but some days are still hard. In fact, some days I really don't want to get out of bed in the morning. But my dog needs me to. Lincoln is a12 and a half year-old Pomeranian Toy Poodle mix. Now, although is he very happy staying in bed with me, he needs to go outside and also eat. So, it doesn't matter if I want to stay in bed and just give in to the anxiety and depression for the day. He doesn't understand that, but he understands when I just need him to curl up beside me and lay there as long as he can before he has to go out again (And let me tell you … it’s a lot as he gets older) Lincoln needs me and he relies on me to take care of him. Just his presence alone has helped me on so many days. I tell people he’s a rescue dog, but really … I didn’t rescue him, he saved me.
How animals can help you with your anxiety and depression
- Animals are great listeners and they never tell your secrets. On those days when you just want to pour it all out but you're a little leery of what someone else would say, your pet will listen. And, they don't judge either. They look at you with these eyes that just tell you it’ll be ok.
- Animals provide motivation to get up. Knowing that you have a living thing depending on you for survival can motivate you up out of bed. An animal that needs to go out of the house at least a few times a day is an extra benefit because you can't just feed it once and forget about it unlike a cat (Sorry cat people!) And, it's an extra bonus if you don't have a fenced yard and have to go outside with your animal because it gets you fresh air and sunshine, which are both good for fighting depression.
- Animals help fight the loneliness. When we are suffering from anxiety and depression it's easy to withdrawal from friends and family. I’m bad at this … I tend to want to go into retreat mode and just isolate myself. Then the loneliness sets in and that's hard to handle as well. It’s like in those moments you are damned if you do, damned if ya don’t! However, having a pet by your side to cuddle with and pet reminds you that you aren't alone.
Psychiatric service dogs
You've probably heard of service dogs that help people with disabilities, but did you know there are psychiatric service dogs? These animals are trained to assist you with areas of your challenges with anxiety and depression. The dog can remind you to take your medication each day, create personal space around you to protect your boundaries, and even alert you when they can sense that your anxiety levels are increasing. These dogs are nothing short of amazing! Now, Lincoln isn’t a trained psychiatric service dog, and he can’t remind me to take my medications, he has no idea about personal space (sitting on my keyboard as I type this), but he can sense when I am starting to get anxious, he can sense when I just need him to lay literally on top of me (lack of personal space remember?)
If you are struggling with anxiety and depression and you don't have a pet, I encourage you to consider getting one. Now, dogs are a lot of work … puppies are even more work so please do your research before running out to get one. There are also a ton of great rescue places in Vancouver and I’m sure in other places. Even going to the SPCA to become a dog walker would help!
Robert Wagner said, "A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won't be too bad."