Every dog owner knows the joy of having a dog; they give us companionship, love, and care. Dogs are known as man’s (and woman’s) best friend. However, for people who face emotional and physical challenges, the presence of a dog can be significant to their daily life. Dogs offer support and comfort, helping people living with issues that affect their lives, such as mobility, blindness, deafness, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
I am happy to welcome Cody Oelker from US Service Animals.org as a contributor to this week's blog. He reached out to me with the idea of a guest post on Emotional Support Animals, and together we created the post you see here. We hope you enjoy the read, and if you or someone you know would benefit from an Emotional Support Animal, we encourage you to speak to a mental health provider about having such a companion.
Most of us recognize guide dogs which help blind people and service dogs help those with limited or no mobility. Other types of animals assist people who experience emotional trauma. Those can be dogs, cats, rabbits, even guinea pigs, which are also used as therapy animals, visiting schools, libraries, hospitals and nursing homes.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide emotional support and comfort to their owner in the form of affection and companionship. Although all dogs are emotionally attached to their owner, to be legally considered as an emotional support animal, the animal needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person living with a mental disability. A therapist must examine the person and decide that the presence of an Emotional Support Animal is needed to ease anxiety and help him or her focus on life.
Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal
ESAs help ease anxiety, depression, and certain phobias. These special animals provide many mental and emotional benefits to people living with disabilities. They are intelligent creatures that psychologically impact their owners by offering reassurance and companionship. Other benefits of having an Emotional Support Animal in your home include the following:
If you’re experiencing any form of mental or emotional challenges, then you may want to consider an emotional support animal. These four-legged furry companions offer so many benefits to their owners, including helping reduce stress, anxiety, depression; serving as a faithful companion; and giving the owner a sense of purpose while experiencing unconditional love. Talk with your counselor, therapist, or psychologist to learn more about how to obtain an ESA and the benefits you may experience by having one.
I reached my hand between the slots of the cage bars. I knew I shouldn’t, but her amber eyes beckoned. She rubbed her small, round, reddish head against my fist. Her dainty purring, barely audible, captured my heart, and she came home with me later that day.
Her name was Ama – a strange moniker, but one she kept for the next 16 years we shared. The year was 1991; the place was the Bozeman, Montana Humane Society. Ama and I experienced five moves in the years between adoption and her passing at nearly 19. Through it all, she remained a friendly feline princess, her luxurious long orange and white coat and her delicate Ragdoll breed features giving her that royal appearance. During the many seasons we shared the household, having Ama in my life during times of stress helped calmed me, providing a quiet, nonjudgmental companionship that helped through the eddies of life.
There are many joys and benefits of living with a cat. Studies show pet owners generally lead healthier lives and have less stress. Here are a few benefits of living with a cat:
June is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month. Rescue organizations often promote this special month with special adoption rates on cats and kittens. Find your princess (or prince) of a cat at your local shelter or rescue group this month and enjoy the joys of living with a cat – just like I did with Ama.
You’ve likely read about or heard about them, one may even live in your home. These are the heroes, superheroes, in fact, but only one that I know of made it onto the TV/Movie screen: UnderDog. What a name – not SuperDog, BatDog, or AvengerDog, the name was UnderDog – not much of a super hero name.
Yet, for those animals who save their humans’ lives, these pets are superheroes, such as the parrot who saved a child from choking and a cat who saved her family from carbon monoxide poisoning. Earlier this year, a German shepherd dog was badly beaten and shot several times protecting a teenager from home intruders; miraculously, the dog survived his injuries, and received a commendation.
From overseas military combat dogs like Layka to cats like Schnautzie from Montana, pets save lives, sniff out bombs and cancer, and find lost children. Hero pets lead the blind, bring smiles to hospital patients, help children read, and give people comfort during illness or grief. Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs travel the country during times of trauma, such as hurricanes and school shootings. Our own pets provide comfort when we’re sick or stressed. A cold nose or warm purr soothes us, making our own pets our own personal heroes.
Every year American Humane presents the Hero Dog Awards, honoring canines who come to the rescue. These superheroes may be police, fire, or military dogs, lead the blind and help the deaf, serve as therapy animals in hospitals, or inspire us with their persevering spirits as emerging heroes. This week, American Humane allows the public to vote for the hero dogs which, later this year, will be recognized for their endeavors and awarded for their heroism. Cast your vote for the Hero Dogs of the Year by visiting this website: http://herodogawards.org/vote/. Voting closes on Wednesday, April 25.
Your dog, cat, ferret, or parrot may not have an award on the wall or shelf, may not have saved yours or a family member’s physical life, but most of us with pets recognize the joy and wonder of having a pet share our lives. Who is your hero pet? Leave a comment about why you feel your pet “rescued” you or, in your eyes and heart, is your hero. And, don’t forget to vote for the American Humane Hero Dog Awards!
During the past month or two, I’ve honored people in my life who have had birthdays. Friends, colleagues, family – those milestones of years, experiences, and relationships are important, and therefore, should be recognized.
My husband's birthday is next month, and my birthday occurred on Sunday. My husband, dogs, and I took an outdoor adventure on Saturday (the nicest weather day of the weekend), traveling nearly 200 miles total to experience the spring migration of sandhill cranes through eastern Wyoming. We also visited Kindness Ranch, a livestock and pet sanctuary for former research animals. Both were grand experiences!
My husband and I don’t just celebrate people’s birthdays. Our springer/cocker mix Mary had her 12th birthday in early February. We celebrated with a cake – white with cream icing. This is a tradition in our household; it began more than 15 years ago with our blind springer, Sage. Greg started the tradition, deciding to purchase a dog-shaped cake to honor Sage’s birth. Such celebrations have been part of our life with canines in our home ever since.
We’ve also honored our pets by cooking or buying hamburger and feeding the treat to them, in particular our dogs. For the cats, tuna is the food of choice for their August birthdays.
Various websites provide ideas for celebrating our furry friends’ special day. Some of those thoughts include:
According to the UK’s Daily Mail, nearly 75 percent of pet owners celebrate their furry family member’s birthday. Do you? If so, how do you celebrate?
PersonalCreations.com provides a guide and some recipes on cakes that are edible for dogs and cats (the meat cake is thought to be best for cats; but, there are many varieties of special treats which pets can enjoy). Visit their website for ideas: https://www.personalcreations.com/blog/dog-cake-recipes. Writers for this site also give thought to what types of foods are NOT good for our animal pals, which is also important information. Check it out.
Happy Spring, and Happy Birthday to you and your pets!
What’s in a name? Most names have meaning, and many times people seriously consider the name they give a child. Many pet parents also genuinely think about the name they bestow upon their animal, especially when the pet is adopted.
A Dog Named Stormy
My husband and I are in the process of adopting another dog, and we are seriously thinking about names. Currently, the dog is named Stormy, and although that’s not a bad name, the little guy (a Shih Tzu) was rescued from a puppy mill situation by a non-profit animal welfare group. We think he deserves a new name: he has a new life, he’ll be starting over in a loving home with us, and truthfully, I don’t want my dog named after a natural force that can kill (he’s not a police or military dog after all!). So, we are discussing names. I even asked friends for their input, and, after seeing Stormy’s picture, many expressed their thoughts. My husband has his ideas for a new name for our new pet, and so do I. We will take a list of the names we’ve compiled, both our own favorites and the thoughts of pet-loving friends, and we will bring those ideas with us to the adoption center.
When we meet Stormy and have time to spend with him, including a several-hour drive back home, we’ll see which new name appears to “fit” him. Will it be Spencer? Or Ozzie? Or Ranger? Perhaps Beau. Or Teddy. Or maybe even Story – he has a story, and I write stories… but my husband frowned at that one (just as I frowned at Ozzie).
Popular Pet Names
There’s a lot of advice out there about naming your pet, whether dog or another animal. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve followed is to keep a name short and easy to say, and therefore, easy to understand. Another is to not name your pet after something that sounds like a command, such as “Joe,” which could be misinterpreted as “no,” or “Kit,” which could be heard as “sit” (or something far worse, especially if you’re yelling that name across the dog park!)
There are hundreds of popular names for pets, both dogs and cats. Some trendy feline names include Bella, Coco, and Jasper. See here: http://www.findcatnames.com/top-cat-names/
The American Kennel Club (AKC) provides a listing of the top 100 dog names, both male and female. Other websites provide a similar listing. Some are even broken done by the top name for various breeds, or the top names for different “jobs,” such as hunting dog breeds. I’ve looked over nearly every website, and some of the things I’ve learned include:
Keep the Name or Change It?
I’ve usually kept my dog’s name short and sweet: Sam; Cody; Sage; Mary. All of them had their names already except for Sam – he was a stray whom no one knew anything about. But, he caught on to that name quickly and we enjoyed a decade together with a deep, close connection. I kept the other dogs’ name the same because, at least in Sage and Mary’s cases, their situations weren’t dire or so traumatic that I believed a change was necessary. And, Cody was nearly 10 years old when we adopted him, so neither my husband nor I thought it worthwhile to change his name; he was totally used to it, and again, it was short and easy to say. My cats – well, the two remaining with us were kittens when we adopted them so we could name them as we wanted (Murphy and Bailey); my husband comes from Irish ancestry, and I enjoy Irish culture, so we chose names to reflect that (plus those names that end in “y” seem popular and easy to understand). My other cat, Ama, was already named and it was so unique, I decided to keep it.
How about you? Do you keep a pet’s name when you adopt or do you change it? What do you take into consideration when naming your animals?
They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. From big to little, from extra-tiny to extra-large, dog breeds are as variable as the human race. Red, white, blue, black, brown, tawny, spotted, solid; short-hair, long-hair, no-hair. Outgoing and friendly, shy and reserved, protective, loving. A hunter, a herder, a comfort, service-oriented. Sniffing, drooling, laughing, quiet, boisterous. There is a type of dog for every type of person.
Dogs have been part of humankind’s existence for eons. And yet, millions need homes each and every year.
October is National Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, a time to celebrate the joy of canine companionship and promote the adoption of these wonderful creatures. The ASPCA estimates nearly eight million dogs and cats enter shelters across the United States annually; about three million are killed. Sadly, only about 35 percent of animals that are available for adoption actually get new homes, meaning millions are killed because not enough people adopt.
In addition to the humane societies and animal shelters, there are rescue groups, many of which are voluntarily-run, that take in dogs (and cats) in an effort to re-home them. From coast-to-coast, these tireless individuals run these organizations with one focus: to save and adopt-out pets. Some are breed-specific; many of these are noted by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Others are type-specific, such as herding dogs or large dogs (see the websites for HERD of Wyoming and Big Dogs Huge Paws). Others accept whatever dog needs rescuing. To find a shelter or rescue group near you, visit Petfinder.com. Or, if you’re interested in a breed-specific rescue, visit the AKC website: http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/rescue-network/contacts/
When you adopt, especially from a kill-shelter, you are saving a life. In fact, you’re likely saving two lives: the one you adopt and the one coming into the shelter after it. Wherever you adopt, shelter (kill or not) or rescue, you are helping more than one dog, for when you adopt, room in that facility or foster home is made for another animal in need.
Dogs that go into a rescue or shelter aren’t bad; they are likely being given up due to a move (the #1 reason people give up their animals), health of the person (an elderly individual going into a nursing home cannot take their beloved pet with them), or other life change, such as job loss. If behavior is the cause, the owner likely did not provide his/her dog with obedience training. Simple commands such as “sit,” “stay,” “heel,” “come,” and “no” alleviate a lot of behavior issues – but a dog can’t teach those things to himself; owners need to be responsible for the training of their pets. Classes are often held through AKC clubs, big-box pet stores, such as PetCo and PetSmart, or one can hire a trainer (or research how to train a dog themselves – just remember, positive reinforcement is the best way to train a dog).
Pets improve people’s lives. Research shows people with pets are happier and healthier. Dogs make us exercise; even walks around the block help both humans and their canine friends be healthier. The simple act of petting a dog decreases blood pressure, reduces stress, and calms us down as well as uplifts our moods. Many dogs enjoy riding in the car, going for walks, jogs, and hikes, and simply being a part of a family; therefore, they make wonderful companions!
So, consider adopting a dog this month. Whether you are single, married, have children (or not), or are retired, there’s a dog to fit every lifestyle. Of course, you need to find the RIGHT dog -- that’s one of the roles of animal shelters, rescue organizations, and humane societies. The staff and volunteers who spend time with the animals know their personalities and may often know the dog’s background, therefore, they offer a tremendous service for those hoping to add a dog to their life. But, do your research as well. You know your lifestyle – learn about the breeds and discover what type of dog best fits your family life and energy level. Visit this website to learn about the different dog breeds: http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/
Be a hero – save a life today by adopting the right dog for you!
A sign hangs on my wall: “My Therapist Has a Wet Nose.” I bought the sign at a pet supply store a few years ago, and the saying is certainly true – in my house and in many other homes. My animals make great therapists – many pets do.
Research shows pets provide great health benefits to people. They can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and add years to our life. Experts tell us that pets help people who suffer from depression. The simple fact that our pets accept us for who we are, they love us unconditionally and are devoted companion, often waiting by the door for our return, makes us smile and builds our confidence and self-esteem. Dogs get us outdoors for fresh air and walks, and cats curl up in our laps and purr. All of these things and more are healthy benefits to people, both emotionally and physically.
People in nursing homes, hospitals, and hospice often feel weak, are in pain, and get discouraged. Many are lonely. Therapy pets raise their spirits, bringing smiles and joy into situations that can be sad and scary. Pet Partners, formally the Delta Society, and other groups certify pets and their owners for visiting these and other public places and studies show these animals provide great benefits to those whom they visit.
Although many people think of dogs when they envision pet therapy, dogs are not the only animals used for such work. Other animals, too, can be and are used in therapy situations; cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, even horses offer therapeutic value in various circumstances.
Unlike people with whom relationships can be complex, unpredictable, and stressful, animals are a great source of stability and companionship. Having a pet in one’s home can be calming and offer comfort when one is ill. Animals don’t change, and their loyalty to their owners and their ability to rebound from tough situations can be inspiring. The simple act of petting a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and bring a sense of calm to one’s spirit. Interacting with that pet in a playful manner can generate enjoyment and laughter. Even watching fish in a beautiful tank can bring about a sense of peace and an enjoyment of splendor through the colors of both the fish and the tank. And, don’t we all need a bit more tranquility, stability, and ability in our lives?
Pets are also a great source of comfort, especially for those affected by natural and other disasters. The K-9 Comfort Dogs from Lutheran Church Charities travel America to help quell the squall people experience after tornadoes, bombings, and other tragedies. Hugging a dog and allowing it to lick away tears of grief, fear, and anxiety brings comfort, and that's the job of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs – and many other such animal-human programs.
No matter what we’re experiencing, we find love, devotion, acceptance and comfort from the furry friends around us … and we can share that special beauty with others by being partners with our pets in helping those in our community and our country through therapy and comfort animal programs.
Have you hugged your pet today? Do so, and put some special pet therapy in your day!
There is no escaping aging, not for people and not for pets. As with us, when pets get older more health problems arise. Yet, again as with us, there are things we can do to help them age with grace and dignity. Here are some tips:
Older pets give us deep devotion; we should return the sentiment. The Grey Muzzle Organization, dedicated to helping homeless senior dogs, offers a free downloadable e-book on how to care for an older dog. Visit http://www.greymuzzle.org/Resources/Senior-Dog-Care.aspx to get this great resource.
Another great online resource for caring for a senior pet is PetMD: http://www.petmd.com/dog/care/evr_dg_caring_for_older_dogs_with_health_problems#.
Enjoy the years with your furry friend, no matter its age –loyalty runs in their veins!
Every year, about seven million animals go into shelters and rescues across the country. Dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, guinea pigs, parakeets, and other animals come in as stray, are abandoned, or given up for various reasons. Nearly half of those that enter shelters are killed.
October is National Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month. The numerous rescue organizations, animal shelters, and humane societies across the country take in the stray and unwanted, and for people seeking to adopt, there's a plethora of animals from which to choose. And so there are questions: Which breed of dog? What type of pet? Dog? Cat? Rabbit? Lizard? Parakeet? Fish?
How do you choose?
First, consider your lifestyle. Are you home a lot or gone? Are you an active person or a couch potato? Do you want an animal that needs to be with you a lot or one that's independent? Do you have time to walk and play with a pet? Dogs especially crave the attention of their people; they are pack animals and mostly social, so getting a dog and then leaving it for hours on end, indoors or outdoors, and neglecting that desire to be with you can lead to destructive behaviors and abandonment anxiety.
Second, consider the allergy factor – does anyone in your family have allergies to pet hair/dander? Are you allergic to bird feathers? Even though many people with allergies have pets, it's also a big reason people turn animals into shelters and rescues. If you or someone in your house is severely allergic to animal hair/dander, then consider having a reptile, like a lizard or turtle, or a variety of fish for a beautiful aquarium.
Third, do you expect a life change in the near future, such as moving or having a baby? These are also main reasons people bring animals to the shelter. Keep in mind a pet is a major responsibility and should be a lifetime commitment. Dogs and cats in particular attach themselves to their human families, and it's very traumatic for them to go from living in a home to a shelter situation, behind bars, on cold concrete, amid other barking dogs and meowing cats. Therefore, don't think of a pet as a temporary resident, but as a member of the family, and if you think you'll be making a major life change in the near future, postpone getting a pet until your life is more settled.
Fourth, research the different breeds of dogs and cats and the other types of animals people have for pets. Understand that terriers dig, beagles bay, corgis herd, cats claw, and longhaired felines need regular grooming. Most dogs and cats shed and bird and hamster cages need regular cleaning. Know what you're in for BEFORE you add a pet to your home and learn about the personality traits and habits of different breeds. Also recognize the needs of the various types of animals before you adopt.
Lastly, don't adopt on a whim and don't “gift” an animal, no matter whether it's a dog, cat, kitten, puppy, hamster, rabbit, or other creature. Remember the previous tips about understanding the needs of the animal and the responsibilities of pet ownership. Don't surprise someone and don't get an animal for yourself or your family without the knowledge base of which pet best fits your life. If you want to “gift” a pet, offer to pay the adoption fee for someone and let them choose the pet themselves. If you're considering giving your children the “gift” of a pet, keep in mind mom and dad are ultimately responsible for the care and cost of the pet... and even a “free pet” costs money for vet care, food, and other supplies … and pets take time, especially dogs. As a family, research the various types of pets and the different breeds of dogs and cats, and spend time together at the shelters and rescues to find the right animal that fits your family's lifestyle and personalities. A good opportunity to do that comes during Christmas break, when you can visit the facilities frequently and spend time with the various animals available for adoption … and you have the time after the holiday with your new family member before it's left alone when the kids return to school and you return to work.
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) provides a list of pros and cons to adding a pet to your home. They offer tips and guidelines for those considering adopting a dog, a cat, a hamster, a guinea pig, a rabbit, or having a fish. View these tips, and other important pet information, at the organization's website: https://www.aspca.org/adopt/adoption-tips/right-pet-you.
So, which pet is the right one? The one that is right for you!
The small Shitz Tzu who lays in the chair next to the livingroom window, longing for its human friend to return home; the Labrador retriever who obediently brings back the duck brought down by the hunter; the golden retriever who patiently guides its blind person; the abused cocker spaniel who tentatively licks the cheek of its rescuer; the bulky German Shepherd that bravely follows his K9 officer into a violent situation; the long-haired dachshund that lays quietly beside the sick in a hospital bed – all of these canines exhibit qualities to which humans can relate and from which we can learn.
Dogs showcase amazing and true life lessons, from loyalty to forgiveness, from friendship to sacrificial service. Below are just six out of numerous life lessons dogs can teach us:
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.