What is it about furr-babies that can be so relaxing?! If you read my Dark Days page you will notice that I have a dog and three cats- the cats came first and the third one was got during a manic state.
When I had my breakdown in 2010 and finally started getting out again I couldn’t face being around people, but animals were another thing entirely. I went to every zoo I could find in South East England. Just sitting and watching the animals was almost hypnotic for me, they don’t answer back, they don`t put you down they just go about their routines. I love how majestic and elegant giraffes and big cats are and how cheeky and immature the small primates are. It gave me a chance to switch off my life and just zone out.
Animals have been used for assisted living for years- the first you think of is seeing eye dogs. Well there has become a more prevalent use for animals with mental health issues, and not just with children. I am sure there are plenty of cynics out there who believe it is a load of phooey, and it possibly doesn’t work for everyone- but I have been looking into it a little more and there does seem to be evidence to support animal therapy.
In 2008 the New York Times posted an article on the use of `Farm Intervention` a study done by Norwegian researchers using 90 people (with varying mental health issues)- two-thirds were treated with farm intervention (working three hours a week on a farm for 12 weeks), the others took part in regular psychiatric help. The study argued that after the test period was over those who had worked on the farm indicated better self-sufficiency and coping skills than those who had not.
In a brochure outlining the use of pet therapy with mental health patients in a high security facility in Scotland, the word `Trust`appears repeatedly in quotes from various patients. One patient is quoted as saying:
It’s great to learn how to care for the animals. Sharing their trust and being gentle can make your day. Seeing them content is rewarding and worthwhile.
The general consensus is that the use of animals and a garden area at the facility creates a calm surrounding for patients who connect with the animals by looking after them, watching them and interacting. The trust a pet puts in its human is all encompassing, they do not question your intentions, answer back or argue- they simply love and want to be loved.
There are a lot of studies out there that discuss the use of animals in therapy and I could write for hours on the subject. But I will leave you to make up your own mind on the subject. Personally there is nothing better when I am in a low mood than having my cats curl up with me. They seem to know when I am upset and won’t leave me alone. They were the reason I held on when suicidal thoughts hit hard in June this year- I had the pills ready to go, but those little musketeers would not leave my side, they wanted to snuggle and made me realise that I would be leaving them behind if I went through with it- who would care for them then. I know- it’s probably irrational to think of leaving animals behind being in the forefront of my mind at a time like that, but it worked- I am still here. My love for them is unconditional.
Want to read more? The below link is from Dogtime and outlines other ways animals can assist their human counterparts.