Pets have shown to be a tremendous help to children growing up, teaching them about responsibility, the importance of compassion and empathy, and helping them maintain a positive attitude through emotional hardships, creating stronger adults with a better self-esteem.
Yet pets also continue to have psychological benefits for adults. It’s true that man’s best friend is a furry mammal – the relationship between a person and their pet is far less complicated than that between two humans, but that doesn’t make it any less significant.
For those in the field of psychiatry, pets offer the ability to act not just as best friends, but as miniature therapists. From addiction to depression, disability, pain and anxiety, therapy dogs help countless people deal with the realities of their condition by bringing a smile to their face.
Make Sure You’re Ready
If you’re getting professional help for your addiction or any other existing mental conditions, then ask your doctor or therapist about pet therapy. If you’re not seeking professional help, then in the very least get a professional opinion.
Pet therapy is an effective form of therapy for depression, anxiety, and even for physical issues such as chronic pain. Yet pets – even therapy dogs – aren’t for everyone, and the dream of owning a furry friend to confide to in every sad moment is also accompanied by the struggles and hardships that come with being responsible for another living being.
Understand the Responsibility
Having a pet isn’t all roses and sunshine. Dogs and cats need to be taught how to take care of “business” in the house without stinking the whole place up – and some breeds, especially among dogs, are a little slower at that. They need to be bathed and combed, taken to the vet, trained and socialized. Dogs have a small window for socialization and desensitization in their puppy days – beyond that, a dog can be prone to developing phobias and anxiety issues due to new and unforeseen violent stimuli, such as fireworks, loud thunderstorms, and more.
Therapy animals are trained to help you, rather than cause you problems like this, but if you either aren’t eligible for a therapy animal or would rather get a puppy of your own, then knowing what you’re in for is crucial.
Benefits of Animal Companionship
The biggest two benefits of owning a pet, regardless of whether they’re trained or not, is a combination of love and responsibility. Dogs and cats alike will love you no matter who you are, and they’ll have no qualms about it. They don’t judge, don’t carry a negative bias, and won’t make comments on how you look or how much (or little) you might be earning.
They care about what really matters in life – sharing food, playing around a lot, and giving kisses. A pet can help not only brighten up your day, but brighten up your life in general, bringing a lot of humor and comedy into your everyday routine while reminding you how important it is to care for and love those dearest to us.
Because having a pet is a demanding task – even when it’s a trained therapy dog – pet ownership also translates into accountability in the world of addiction recovery. Accountability to others is important in early recovery, because it helps you justify your sobriety and long-term abstinence with something beyond than yourself – the survival, wellbeing and happiness of another living thing.
What to Consider Before Getting a Pet
- Be financially-prepared. Pets aren’t cheap, even if you’re picking up a rescue. Be sure never to choose a dog from a puppy mill, or even a breeder (unless you’re specifically looking for a show dog). Too often, dogs are bred for profit, sold to inexperienced owners and abandoned on the street, only to eventually be captured and put down. There are shelters all over the country full of dogs looking for a home. Even if you can offer one, remember that dogs come with the cost of time, food, veterinary products and vet visits.
- Have the right space. Dogs in particular require a lot of space – some breeds do well in smaller spaces, especially lap dogs and smaller breeds such as pugs, while other dogs require much more room. Border Collies and other such breeds are highly energetic and not recommended for anyone in the city. Doberman are an example of a large breed that loves to lounge around, but even they require daily exercise and regular walks.
- Understand and know the animal. Different animals have different needs. Dogs and cats have different dietary restrictions, preferences, and behavior. Learn your animal and your breed inside-out, and learn to recognize what their behavior really means. It can go a long way to fostering a stronger relationship between you two.
- Love them no matter what. Just like people, animals aren’t perfect – though some might argue they’re damn close. Having and loving a pet also means knowing when it’s time to stop being angry and forgive. It’s useless to hold a grudge against your pet, and it’ll do nothing but hurt the both of you.
Your New Best Friend
A dog or a cat can be an emotional rock in times of personal hardship, more than even most people. Domestic dogs and cats were bred for centuries to work with humans, offer companionship, and keep us safe. We’ve grown up alongside these animals for countless generations in cultures all across the world, and both dogs and cats have the innate knowledge to understand our emotions, feelings and behavior.
The bond between man and animal is extremely strong – and extremely beneficial. Research shows that caring for and having a pet while going through depression can greatly reduce symptoms and speed up emotional improvements. Emotional volatility is nothing new to those suffering from addiction, but it’s especially egregious within the first few months of recovery. While the top priority is making sure you have the space, time and funds to keep a pet healthy, living with a pet in the first few months can really help you keep your sanity and hone your ability to love and care for others again.
There will be many times when you’ll be very angry with your pet. They’ll test your patience and push you to the edge of frustration. And that’s the greatest test of all – holding back the urge to lash out, and instead focusing on your love for your furry roommate and the antics they use to keep you busy.
At the end of the day, however, the keyword is accountability. A cat or a dog is a living, breathing animal – they have feelings, needs, and quirks. They require direction, attention, entertainment, affection and food. It’s on you to make sure your pet is happy – but if you make sure of that, you can completely guarantee it to yourself that they’ll make you happy in return.