Dogs like to have jobs. Whether it’s herding sheep, detecting drugs, guiding a vision-impaired person, helping with search and rescue missions, or bringing back the stick you just threw, most dogs enjoy being given tasks and interacting with people. Some dogs even enjoy providing therapy. NBC News reports that therapy dogs who visit pediatric cancer wards experience no distress and show signs of genuine joy when interacting with the children they visit. Therapy dogs volunteer at hospitals, nursing homes, and schools, working with their owners to improve the lives of the people they visit.
Therapy dogs are just one of many types of animals who can support people physically and emotionally. Horses, cows, birds, rabbits, cats, and more–any animal species can provide comfort and affection, and some animals are especially amenable to formal training in animal-assisted therapy for people with physical, mental, or psychological disabilities.
If you think you might benefit from having a service dog, this North Carolina organization can help.
But aside from these more formal roles animals can play in helping humans, having a pet you love who loves you back can be a wonderful support for your daily sense of well-being. Would pet ownership work for you?
The Benefits of Pets
Research is ongoing, but several studies show that interacting with pets can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower blood pressure; pets can also help you feel less lonely and boost your mood.
The Mental Health Foundation reports that pets (depending on what type of pet you have) can increase physical activity, which can also increase your social interaction. If you’ve ever walked a dog, you know how quickly you’ll get to know other dog-walkers in your town. Pets also add structure to your day. No matter what mood you’re in or how much energy you have, your pet needs to be fed. Perhaps most importantly, a pet can give you a feeling of security and companionship, especially if you live alone.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, I’m not cut out for this kind of responsibility. That’s a good awareness to have. Pets do require some level of commitment, and they aren’t always easy. Let’s look at some of the potential downsides of pet ownership…
Some Things To Consider Before Getting a Pet
Different animals require different levels of care. Of the small animals, dogs probably require the most commitment. Daily walks, daily playtime, getting outside to pee or poop several times a day, baths, grooming, and more. Cats require a little less (although your cat would probably enjoy daily walks, too!). Fish require less than cats, aside from the labor-intensive tank cleanings every couple of weeks. In addition, consider the following when deciding whether a pet is right for you–and what kind of pet will work best:
- Expense – adoption or breeder fees, food, supplements, medicine, veterinary visits and procedures, toys, beds/bedding, petsitters, training programs, other supplies…the costs add up. If you’re living in an apartment, you might need to pay a monthly pet fee as well.
- Travel restrictions – depending on the type of pet you have, your travel will be restricted to varying degrees. Dogs shouldn’t be left alone more than 4-6 hours at a time (although some dogs can go longer if they have freedom to move around). Cats can last up to 24 hours on their own, and other animals may be okay alone for longer. But if you have a job that keeps you away from home regularly for long hours, or if you love to pick up and travel whenever you get the urge, having a pet may not be right for you.
- Time spent housecleaning – this depends on the animal, but most dogs and cats shed quite a bit, and dogs and outdoor cats will track in dirt from outside.
- Life span – some pet birds, reptiles, and fish can live 20 years or more. Cats can live up to 20 years, and some dog breeds can live almost that long. If you suspect your pet might live longer than you will, make sure you have a plan for how they will be cared for after your death.
While it may be overwhelming to consider all of these points, if you love animals and have the time and money to take care of a pet, the benefits surely outweigh the disadvantages. When your cat throws up on your new carpet, you’ll clean it up and love her just the same. When your dog barks at nothing in the middle of the night, you’ll forgive him by morning. When your bird screams for your attention while you’re trying to make dinner, you’ll learn to tune it out and enjoy snuggling with her later.
Don’t Want a Pet but Want to Hang Out with Animals Sometimes?
If you’ve decided a pet is not for you, know that there are other ways to spend time with animals that require much less commitment. If you like dogs and cats, volunteer at a local shelter to feed, clean, walk, and/or socialize with the animals. If you like larger animals, volunteer at a nearby sanctuary for rescued horses. Offer to pet-sit for friends and family when they’re out of town.
Mental Health Care at Raleigh Oaks
If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder, our facility in Garner, NC, can help. We provide psychiatric and medical assessment and care for adults and seniors, particularly those suffering from depression, anxiety, and complicated grief. Reach out to us today; we can help you decide what kind of treatment will work for you.