Dogs as therapy.

While research on the subject still has a long way to go, the idea that animals are good for our health has been around for some time. There are cases of doctors trying to incorporate animals into psychiatric settings as far back as the 1700s, to try to calm patients and improve their quality of life. More recently, studieshave shown that having a pet around can lower blood pressure, and the American Heart Association has stated that owning a dog may even lower the risk of heart disease. There can also be huge mental health benefits that come from humans spending time around and bonding with animals. Animals have been assisting mental health professionals unofficially for decades. In the 1930’s Sigmund Freud included his Chow Chow, Jofi, in his counselling sessions. Apparently, in addition to assessing the mood of his patients, his dog also knew exactly when 50 minutes had passed and it was time for them to end a session.

Dogs don’t just make us calmer, some studies have shown that they also make us happier. Research has shown that just petting a dog for a few minutes can raise levels of hormones that make us feel better. There are a couple of theories out there as to why this happens; one is the ‘biophilia hypothesis’ – essentially that humans have an innate propensity to connect with other living things. Another is the social support theory – the idea that therapy animals provide a form of nonjudgmental support to us. They pick up on our daily moods and are extremely in sync with our emotions, their loving temperament towards us can have a huge positive effect on us when we are ‘having an off day’.

Having a pet can also provide us with necessary structure to our day as well as responsibility. In the picture below is my 1 year old Golden retriever, Luca. After having a pretty tough time last year & seeing the positive effects that working with dogs had on my mental health, I decided to get my first ever dog. Besides loving him unconditionally and making a bond with the sweetest little pup ever, the benefits have been endless. On days where I felt shit mentally from depression or exhausted from my fatigue it meant I had a reason to get up in the morning. At that time in my life I didn’t care if I didn’t get out of bed in the morning for myself, but there was no way I wouldn’t get out of bed for him. I had to get up to feed and walk him, therefore the responsibility gave me structure to my day and when I found motivation for that, my motivation for other things started to come back too. I’m in a great place now but during that dark time in my life, getting Luca brought wonders to my life. As well as bringing structure to my life and helping me deal with my fatigue, getting Luca also made me grow up a bit. Sometimes my ADHD and mental health issues can cause me to have what I call “fuck it” days. This is normally when I’m tempted to go out until all hours, drink excessively to the point I can’t get out of bed the next day or spend loads of money and take off for the weekend….then I remember I have a dog and have responsibilities. Sometimes this can feel like a tie but he is worth giving these things up for and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Making those reckless decisions wouldn’t be doing me any favours anyway.

I have been very lucky with Luca and his kind temperament, he is such a gentle soul and just wants to be everyone’s friend. Seeing the positive effects he has had on my life as well as the daily joy he brings my family makes me want to help those who are going through a hard time, therefore I have decided to sign up to volunteer with him as a therapy dog.

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