For many people, dealing with life is difficult. Just like a batter in a baseball game, curve balls come our way – we may take a swing and miss. Or, we may stand there, not sure whether we should move the bat at all.
In the United States alone, anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) affect millions of people. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are one of the most common illnesses in the United States, affecting 40 million adults. More than 17 million people in the America are affected by depression, and depression is most prevalent in young people and women. Depression and anxiety can go hand-in-hand.
In addition to counseling and medication, there is another help for people affected by anxiety and/or depression. Many studies have shown animals, like dogs and cats, help people dealing with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Pets encourage exercise, like walking and playing with toys. The simple act of petting a dog or cat can reduce stress and lift someone’s mood.
Mental health providers see a positive result when patients obtain emotional support animals. These animals help alleviate symptoms of an emotional or mental disability through their companionship and affection. Although not service animals, like guide dogs, ESAs do receive some protections under federal law. Learn more here: https://www.certapet.com/emotional-support-animal/.
Therapy animals visit hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, libraries, schools, and other places, bringing comfort to people during times of crisis or loneliness. For example, the Lutheran Church Charities K9 Comfort Dogs visit places where natural or human-caused tragedies occur and Read-to-the-Dog programs at libraries bring comfort and confidence to children who struggle with reading and socialization. The elderly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities may feel lonely or rejected; therapy animals (which can be cats, rabbits, dogs, even guinea pigs) ease those feelings. People in hospitals may feel anxious or fearful as well as physically ill; a therapy animal can uplift their spirits and put their minds upon something else. Many school districts embrace the use of therapy and/or comfort dogs in public schools as a way to inspire and assist students. The studies which support pets as healers and comforters have impacted the way medical, mental health, and educational professionals view animals, especially dogs and cats.
Lowering stress and blood pressure are some of the benefits of dogs and cats, whether they’re our pets or they are trained as therapy and/or emotional support animals. Animals provide affection and companionship, and they help soothe the soul. They are helpful in human’s healing processes, whether in their own people or within a stranger.
Consumer Advocate offers a wonderful resource and blog post about pets and their ability to help people with mental or physical ailments. You’ll find that here:
If you experience depression or anxiety, or if you are feeling lonely or fearful, consider adding a pet to your home. If you already have one, take more time with your furry friend – you both will enjoy the extra attention and companionship.
How does your pet help you? Leave a comment below.
Do dogs and other animals feel pain and grief?
For decades, researchers have noted the mourning various animal species seem to experience when a family member dies. Elephants, for example, have been documented appearing to mourn the loss of a family member, whether an elderly matriarch or a stillborn calf. Chimpanzees and orcas have also been observed in mourning-like behavior.
What about pets?
As I write this, my husband and I are grieving the death of our beloved springer/cocker mix, Mary. We adopted her in 2013 when she was nearly seven years old. Although we didn’t spend her entire lifetime as her guardians and caregivers, Mary touched our hearts and lives in special ways. Sensitive, friendly, and kind, Mary was trained as a therapy dog, and her sweet disposition generated friends, both human and animal, during the years she lived with us. I wrote two children’s books about her, including A Kind Dog Named Mary, by which Mary reminds children that kindness is a great virtue. She exuded kindness and made impacts wherever she went.
That positive impact included the other pets in our house. From the aging Cody, who lived three extra years after Mary came to live with us, to puppy mill survivor Jeremiah, Mary was a true friend.
Now that Mary is gone, Jeremiah, especially, notices her absence. One day he didn’t eat at all. He is somewhat more lethargic, and he doesn’t play with his toys quite as much. He cuddles with my husband and I more. All of these are indicators, according to pet experts, that Jeremiah is mourning Mary’s death.
Well-known veterinarian Dr. Karen Shaw Becker states that dogs and cats “can experience sadness and grief at the loss of a beloved human or animal companion.” She cites the example of a military dog lying near the casket of its beloved human comrade (the television show, NCIS created an episode “Seek” which showcased a similar experience). Dr. Becker also states that behavior changes are common when pets grieve, so Jeremiah’s lack of appetite and desire for closer human companionship are not rare when a pet is mourning the loss of a beloved friend.
Before Mary, my husband and I had a blind springer spaniel named Sage. Like Mary, Sage developed cancer, and on the last night at home, as her breathing labored and her death drew closer, so, too, did the animals in our household. Cody, the cocker spaniel we’d adopted four years earlier, laid beside Sage in the living room. Our two cats also came into the room and stayed close by. They seemed to sense Sage’s near-demise and seemed to come to say goodbye to her. For several days thereafter, Cody seemed depressed. My husband and I took him on short drives and engaged in several walks a day. Keeping the surviving pets engaged and keeping a steady routine are highly recommended by pet experts after the passing of a beloved animal companion.
Perhaps you, too, have experienced the death of an animal companion – did you notice changes in the behavior of your surviving pets? Did they appear to mourn the loss? I’d be interested in hearing of your own experiences – feel free to leave a comment.
Getting another dog buddy is likely on the horizon, as Jeremiah probably needs another companion (as my husband and I). But, as many animal experts agree, doing so right away is not recommended. We will know when the time is right.
Meantime, we will share our grief as a family, and my husband and I will dote on the pets Mary left behind. Afterall, that’s what families do – help each other during difficult times.
Here are links to some articles on animal grief should you be interested:
“No one can truly understand why dogs are called “man’s best friend” until they have experienced the loss of one.”
“When the cat you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.”
(quotes from https://www.loveliveson.com/loss-of-pet-quotes/)
Every journey with a pet is unique. Each death of a pet is unique. As I research write these words, my husband and I are dealing with the final days of our beloved Mary. A springer/cocker mix, Mary has been our special companion for more than six years. We adopted her when she was almost seven, nearly a year after the loss of another much-loved dog. Mary’s former owner had passed away suddenly, and Mary went into rescue; we learned about her and drove 300 miles one way to meet and adopt her. She has brought much joy and comfort to us during the time we’ve been blessed to call her “ours.”
Trained as a therapy dog by her previous owner, Mary has positively impacted many lives. I’ve written two children’s books about her (and am in the final stages of completing a third), and together, we’ve visited libraries and schools. Mary’s kind, sweet nature won over children and adults alike. She provided comfort for elderly folks, and to my husband and me. Her intuition for people who were down physically and emotionally has been incredible to observe, and her patience and affection for other animals allowed us to bring in another dog 18 months ago who needed her guidance and friendship. My husband and I worry how Jeremiah, our rescued Shih Tzu, will handle Mary’s passing.
This is not the first time we’ve faced the death of a beloved pet. In our 20 years together, my husband and I have experienced the passing of two dogs and one cat, and before we met, we grieved the loss of animals as children and younger adults. However, the experience never gets easier. Each pet has brought love, fun, joy, and devotion to our lives, touching our hearts in their own special way. And, their passing leaves a void. Yet, their lives leave memories galore!
Each pet parent’s experience with the loss of a beloved animal is a personal journey. Some people grieve for months, even years. Just as the loss of a human friend or loved one pierces the heart, so does the loss of a beloved animal companion. And just as the journey of grief for another person is personal and unique, so is the journey of pet loss.
Experts note the stages of grief after losing a pet are similar to those experienced at the loss of a human loved one: denial, anger, guilt and acceptance. They also agree a person needs to grieve the death of a pet. Some adults may try to keep their sadness, guilt, and other emotions in-check, being embarrassed to acknowledge how their animal’s death affects them; however, bottling up those emotions isn’t healthy. A person needs to accept and acknowledge the depth of grief they feel in order to start the path of healing. Also, don’t let other people tell you how you “should” feel – as noted earlier, this journey is a personal one and other people are NOT you and you are NOT them. Talk with friends and family who are understanding and empathetic, those you believe will be of help to you and with whom you feel comfortable sharing. Some communities, either through veterinarian’s offices or other organizations, offer pet bereavement support groups; consider going to one. There are also online sites where you can share your thoughts about the loss of your companion, take part in a memorial service, and connect with others who are going through their own pet loss journey.
Whatever your pet loss story, whatever your journey, know that over time your broken heart will heal. And, perhaps one day, another sweet dog, cat, horse, hamster, or other animal will share your love and your life.
Here are a few websites that help pet parents deal with the loss of a beloved animal:
A POEM FOR THE GRIEVING
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die...
-Mary Frye (1932)
Winter is passing and a new season is teasing. Warmer temperatures and bright sunshine can, and does, give way to rain, and even a few snow showers here and there. But, with the calendar page turned to April now, we know the new season of spring is fast approaching. And most of us rejoice.
Our pets, too, usually look forward to the change. Dogs spend more time outdoors in the yard, on walks, or at the dog park. Cats bask in sunshine and watch birds and insects through the window. But, with the onset of spring can come hazards. Below are six of which to be aware:
There are many other spring hazards that can harm our beloved furry friends. For more information and additional safety tips, visit these websites:
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.