Animals are amazing creatures. They freely offer love, joy, and comfort and are known to alleviate anxiety, grief, depression, and so much more. In fact, Psychologists have documented that people who struggle with a variety of mental health issues, including loneliness, depression, and anxiety can improve their mental health by having a pet.
Dogs are often cited in the research as helping with these feelings, but for so many people they do not have the living arrangement for a dog. This is where cats come in. Of course, we are fully aware of the “crazy cat lady” trope, but ironically, cats can really tend to quell feelings of isolation and the “crazies.”
A Pet Can Relieve Loneliness
Everyone can relate to periodic feelings of loneliness and isolation. Being alone is a vulnerability that people of all ages can experience, but more often with advanced age, people find themselves spending more time alone. According to the National Institute of Aging, “people who are lonely experience emotional pain. Losing a sense of connection and community can change the way a person sees the world.”
While there are many social outlets for elderly people in their community, there is one excellent way to combat loneliness, a pet! There is a deep joy in caring for living things that love unconditionally. Many people – animal lovers and those that are not – can attest to the fact that animals, and more specifically pets, are a bridge back to human connection.
A Pet May Lessen Anxiety & Depression
Many people struggle with anxiety and depression, which can worsen with age. People who are transitioning to retirement and feeling the “empty nest” syndrome can feel isolated which leads to depression and anxiety.
According to a medically reviewed article by Anthony Watt, “petting an animal can cause your brain to release chemicals called endorphins.” This increase in endorphins help make people feel happier, which helps with those who are depressed, or anxiety ridden.
A Pet Aids With Grief
The death of a loved one can leave you feeling lost and empty. There are many stages of grief, and everyone deals with it differently. A pet can silently offer comfort while you work through the loss of your loved one. Petting an animal helps but talking to a pet also helps alleviate the loneliness of being left behind.
When you are properly caring for a pet, you cannot barricade yourself inside your home. Your pet will need exercise, items, or medical care that will draw you out of your home and back out into the world. Pets can help give purpose, provide comfort, and reassurance that this too will pass.
What About People Who Cannot Own A Pet?
Not everyone has the financial ability to care for a pet or a living situation that will allow for a pet. In these instances, there is still access available to therapy animals. There are organizations across the United States that service their local communities with registered therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are trained to provide a specific service for someone in need and these dogs receive full public access per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
However, therapy dogs receive varying degrees of training for service and are available in every state.
Some are working comfort dogs. These dogs are purchased by organizations, such as the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry®) and go through intensive training before being put into service. These specially trained dogs visit those in need in their communities with their handlers and volunteers from the organization. There is no charge for an LCC dog visit. Here is the link to request a visit from an LCC Comfort Dog. These working therapy dogs can regularly be found visiting the Boys and Girls Club so that children can read to them and interact with them, visiting nursing homes and hospitals, and attending local funerals so that they can comfort the deceased’s loved ones.
Other therapy animals are pets whose owners have received training and registration to function as a therapy pet. They can be found by searching in your area for access to a visit from a registered therapy animal.
There is always hope and love available to those in need. Sometimes you just need the comfort of an animal.
1NIH, National Institute of Aging, Loneliness and Social Isolation Tips, January 14, 2021, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/loneliness-and-social-isolation-tips-staying-connected
2Healthline, Watt, Anthony, Medically reviewed by William Morrison, MD, Animal-Assisted Therapy for Depression, August 20, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/animal-assisted-therapy