BLOG: Pets and Mental Health

BLOG: Pets and Mental Health

More than 50% of households in the UK are estimated to own at least one pet. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, there has been an unprecedented increase in people seeking animal companionship to tackle feelings of isolation and anxiety.

Pets have been incredibly beneficial to owners during lockdown – not only because they provide that sense of connectedness that people have been missing, but also because they represent a source of support and motivation for people when they’ve been feeling low, and more importantly, a distraction from everything that is going on in the world right now.

So, we thought we would shine a light on just how beneficial pets can be for your mental health and wellbeing by sharing some wonderful stories from our staff and our clients on what it means to be a pet owner during these uncertain times, and why they consider their pets to be all-important members of the family:

“These two rascals are 11-month-old Harley and 10-year-old Bentley. They are the centre of my world. When I was at my most unwell, I had no purpose or interest in anything. I had no hope. Bentley gave me a routine, responsibility, unconditional love, and a reason to get out. I had been locked inside my head and he was the key to opening that door. It meant that we were a team and I was not alone.”

“During lockdown, little Harley joined the clan and has been a catalyst for me to look at things differently, especially when I am out socialising with other dog walkers. Although we are all socially distanced, our dogs are most definitely not; their antics really do bring joy and laughter to my life.”

– Jan, Oakleaf Client

One of our long-standing Oakleaf clients, Haig and his sister Elese, describe just how essential having a pet is for their mental health; that there really is nothing that compares to the unconditional love that they have gained from their dog, Sasha.

“Meet Sasha. She is convinced she’s the centre of the Universe, but to be fair no one has ever corrected her. She is extremely sweet, gentle and loving.  

“With this kind of love, there is no subtext or doubt, only love and happiness in their purest form; free from all human anxieties and uncertainties, manipulations and lies, whether they be the ones we tell ourselves or the ones we tell each other. When either of us find ourselves struggling, burying ourselves in the soft warmth of her generous cuddles eases our pain and calms our fearful hearts.”

However, it seems as though human beings are not the only ones who are struggling with the current restrictions:

“Sasha is also an unrepentant hooligan determined to break lockdown.  She gets so monstrously fed up by the forced isolation (despite having four people at home waiting on her every need), that when taken for a walk, she spontaneously starts sprinting over to her friends’ house.  She plants herself firmly on the doorstep, refusing to budge until she has been given an enthusiastic ‘Hello!’ (albeit at an infuriatingly safe distance).”

– Elese & Haig

Oakleaf’s Chief Executive, Clive agrees, “Owning a dog is not all milk and honey… especially when you look outside, it is freezing cold and raining, and neither you nor the dog want to go out but both at some level recognise there is a need which surpasses the want.” However, he also believes that “things like this pale into significance against the joy that a dog can bring to your life.”

“During lockdown there have been many times when I could have easily not ventured out past the front door but thankfully this is easily overridden when your faithful friend expresses her excitement about going out for a walk.

“As I have been shielding for months, I have needed to be extra careful but going out really early in the morning works well for me, although perhaps not always for Bonnie who may well prefer to carry on sleeping!

“Bonnie is a constant companion who has no care about Covid and what is happening in the world as long as she gets attention, food and walks; and not forgetting at least 18 hours of sleep per day. She is a funny little character, amazingly independent – in other words, she wants our love and care but very much on her terms. She loves to sunbathe and never learns how hot this makes her when she is desperate to try and cool down afterwards. She is challenging because she is terrified of small children and barks at them constantly, which is not easy with three grandchildren, but I would not want to be without her.”

– Clive, Oakleaf Chief Executive

Jacki felt the benefits of having a pet almost immediately due to her struggle with venturing outdoors. She would only travel to familiar places, and only when she felt it was necessary. Having her dog, Lucky, gave her a daily walking routine to live by, meaning that the anxiety she felt about leaving the house gradually lessened.

“Knowing someone or something is there with you makes you feel less alone. Apart from the birth of my grandson, Lucky is the best thing that happened to me in a long time if I’m honest. I am blessed to have him and wish I had had the courage to do this years ago.”

Jacki, Oakleaf Client

For Oakleaf client, Caz, her feline friend could not have been more of a saving grace during the first lockdown and really helped her on her road to recovery. In early 2019, Caz was living alone in a rental home that unfortunately didn’t allow pets but luckily, a change in landlords six months later saw her bring home a gorgeous eight-week-old kitten who she named, Bacardi.

“Bacardi was the last in his litter; small, but perfect for me! He gave me a purpose to get up… to feed, water and play with him – someone to look after. Sometimes, I can’t get out of bed for myself, but I can always get out of bed for Bacardi.

“We have daily conversations that his every answer is “Meow”, but it lifts me up and makes me smile!”

Bacardi still sleeps on the pillow next to Caz every night and will be two years old in August.

– Caz, Oakleaf Client

“I have a crazy cat called Milo who is three and a half years old.  He’s been my little companion during lockdown. He’s like a little shadow following me around (generally because he’s greedy and always wants feeding); full of energy and likes to chase all over the house. He is also rather good at catching things and he likes to leave me regular presents of dead mice and birds!”

– Michelle, Oakleaf Bookkeeper

When asked how pets can make a difference, Oakleaf Business Manager Marguerite summed it up perfectly:

“They expect nothing but give you everything in return. They feel your mood and when you most need a boost they are always at your side.

“Peppa knows no limit to the number of walks that are possible in a day, so we are never without exercise. She is cheeky, adorable and has boundless energy. She also has an uncanny ability to coax extra treats out of us every time!”

Marguerite, Oakleaf Business Manager

As you can see, the positive correlation between pets and mental health is undeniable… they really do go hand in hand. Animals help with depression, anxiety and stress, they make us feel needed; they increase our sense of self-esteem and wellbeing, remind us to stay in the moment. They help us build healthy routines and habits as well as support social connection. But above all, they are able to provide us with unconditional love and joy, at a time when we need it most.

For those of you who do not have access to an animal companion, we have been hosting our virtual Wildlife Group during these extraordinary times with Covid-19, which has helped to form a wonderful online community for our clients. If you would like to find out more, click here or if you would like to find out more about becoming a client and join in with any of our other online Wellbeing Activities, please click here.

For more tips and resources for looking after your mental health and wellbeing, download our Resource Guide. You can also download a Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook  here.

If you are able to donate to Oakleaf and help us provide much-needed support during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, we would be incredibly grateful—we now need you more than ever: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/donation-web/charity?charityId=1006744 

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