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Animals in Our Lives

March 31, 2014

truffle

 

As behavioral health providers partnered with rural health clinics, we at Vista Hill SmartCare periodically receive requests from our patients for letters in support of either obtaining or keeping their beloved animals, despite a “no –pet” policy enforced where they might live. Perhaps the request is on behalf of a child in the family, who can’t sleep without her dog at her side. Maybe it’s an elderly couple with 3 cats who can’t afford their current home anymore, but can’t find a smaller apartment that will accept all of them. Or the woman who refuses to go to a shelter, despite significant health issues, because at least in her car, she can keep her pets with her. At times we assist those who may choose to get by on one meal a day because their funds must go toward the several horses they need to feed each day.

Although not “experts” who can state that the mental status of people such as these would be at serious risk if they would not be granted the privilege of obtaining or keeping their beloved animals, we do write these letters of support, using the powerful words of these patients themselves in support of their requests.  We do this because we recognize and support that pets have profound benefits in our lives. Not only do they help us to sleep better, to feel protected and safe, but they help us to be better humans.

Pets are daily reminders of how important it is to connect with others. They show us how to open our hearts and love unconditionally, how to be dependable and responsible for another life. Being responsible for a pet instills compassion and responsibility, reminds us how to be present in the moment and teaches us about forgiveness and empathy. Our pets remind us to trust.

Additionally, there is evidence that having pets in our lives is actually beneficial to our physical and emotional health. The American Heart Association has connected having pets, especially dogs, with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity.  Studies have also found that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets, have lower blood pressure in stressful situations, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and those pet owners over 65 make 30% fewer doctors visits. One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that most pets fulfill the basic human need to touch. Petting, holding, cuddling, or otherwise touching a loving animal can calm and soothe us when we’re stressed.

Caring for a pet can also help us make healthy lifestyle changes, which in turn eases the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Caring for a pet decreases isolation and ease loneliness, helps us to feel wanted and needed, motivates us to get outside and moving (which we know can substantially boost our mood!), creates structure and routine in our day, and connects us with others.

Many of us can’t take on the full responsibility of pet ownership, but can still reap these emotional and physical benefits by volunteering at a local shelter, offering to walk a neighbor’s dog or pet-sitting when a friend is on vacation. And if you’re not drawn to typical pets, or are allergic, caring for any other living thing can add wellness to your life.

Dr. Vint Verga reminds us that animals have very important lessons to teach us:

Savor the moment  ***  Heed your instincts  ***  Keep focused on what’s important 

Don’t get bogged down on words    ***Take time to rest  ***  Remember to play 

Don’t take yourself so seriously  ***  Let go of attachment to being right or wrong

Practice forgiveness  ***  Love unconditionally

 

Pamela Sachs, LCSWlamb

 

 

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