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Everyone’s Best Friend

DOGS – Dogs have been touted as a wonderful way to exit from a depressive cycle and find companionship in some unconditional, non-judgemental love.

Dogs for depression, companionship and non-judgemental love 

By STEVE DAWSON

When I come home, the daughters don’t look up from their phones, the spouse is usually napping and the helper is probably busier than all of us put together. So, it’s left to the dogs to greet me and they never let me down.

Barking enthusiastically, they both fight for the right to get my attention and having done so, take their place at the counter where the treats are. They know the deal, so do I. they welcome me home, I give them a chewy meaty treat. I must try it on the rest of the family.

My dogs are not well trained. They could behave better, they could certainly be quieter and less frantic when there’s human food around but I wouldn’t dream of having it any other way. They transform the household, are a constant source of conversation and give and receive affection in equal measure.

HelpGuide, an independent non-profit organisation that runs one of the world’s top 10 mental health websites, cites studies claiming that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets; that they have lower blood pressure in stressful situations; that playing with a dog, cat or other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax; and can even lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease).

Heart attack patients with pets have been found to survive longer, while pet owners aged over 65 evidently make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctor than those without.

They quote several reasons for this which all seem to make pretty good sense. Dogs need walking, preferably twice a day. That gets the human moving, which is never a bad thing. If you or a relative struggle with mobility however, smaller breeds get sufficient exercise just by scampering about the house. Related to this is the chance to meet new people. Dog owners have a great reason to stop and talk to each other whether on a walk, in pet stores or training classes.

A dog will inevitably add structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm and it can work for you or a relative too. Whether you’re depressed, anxious or stressed, one pleading look from your furry friend and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, entertain and care for them.

Central to the feel-good factor of having a puppy is companionship. As humans, we thrive on this as it helps prevent illness and can even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for an animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, taking the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. 

I think the most invaluable aspect of having a dog for some people though is that pets tend to live in the moment. They don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. They can help us become more mindful of the here and now, such that we focus what is around us meaning that perhaps we won’t take it for granted.
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