Our friendly, lovable pets provide us with comfort, laughter and recreation. They can be much more than just our loyal companions and furry friends. The pets we love are providing invaluable amounts of care and support. We may think we are solely caring for them, but they are caring for us too!
There are dogs, cats and other animals that are actually certified to assist people in relieving anxiety, healing trauma, alleviating depression, soothing certain mental illnesses, improving motor skills and sensory disabilities. Many of these animals are brought to facilities by their owner or handler under the direction and care of a therapist or physician. The patients or residents in need of pet therapy stroke their fur, snuggle with and play with them to help improve these certain conditions.
Similar to pet therapy, some people with emotional disabilities register their dog as an ESA or an emotional support animal. Typically, someone must have an emotional disability such as depression, anxiety, autism or bipolar disorder diagnosed by a professional physician before registering their pet as an ESA. Like pet therapy animals, they provide comfort to their caretaker and help to alleviate symptoms associated with specific conditions. Emotional support animals can be with the person 24 hours a day, traveling with and entering places that normally would not be allowed such as on airplanes.
Service animals are particularly associated with dogs. Service dogs are similar to emotional support animals but are known to be used specifically for those suffering from physical disabilities and those with severe PTSD, including war veterans. They can be used to help those that are blind, deaf or physically impaired and injured in their everyday lives. Whether it be leading the way, walking beside them or their wheelchair, carrying belongings, protecting and providing companionship, service dogs can help be their eyes, ears, legs and arms.
Research conducted at HABRI found that pets and human-animal interaction helps pet owners manage their feelings while providing a powerful distraction from the stress of mental health issues, ESA and service dogs alleviate symptoms in veterans with PTSD and therapy dogs can even reduce stress in college students. Veterans living with PTSD exhibited better mental health and well-being. The human-animal interactions lowered depression, increased levels of resilience, boosted levels of companionship, decrease social isolation and improve feelings of life satisfaction.
If you are fortunate enough to not have any health-related issues, having a furry friend in your life can only add to the joy and well-being you experience. If you aren’t already, show your pets the same level of care, affection and comfort they provide you by simply being their good natured selves!