Many find fulfillment in taking on the responsibility of having a pet and for good reason. Animals have a unique ability to bring us a quiet sense of joy and peace, without using any words at all. Dogs, especially, seem to develop an unconditional loyalty to their caregivers, but all pets have the potential to offer mental and emotional benefits.
Caring for something besides ourselves gives us a sense of purpose and fulfillment. It is also a responsibility that can supersede feelings of depression or anxiety. Oftentimes someone who is depressed or chronically anxious may struggle with caring for him or herself, but caring for something else can be a healthy motivation to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. Pets depend on their caregivers to live happy and productive lives, too, so this responsibility should not be taken lightly.
Pets model for us a simplified way of being. They do not stress about bills or diagnoses. Sometimes their only item on the to-do list is to accomplish a nap in the sunlight. As humans and caregivers, we have more responsibilities that need to be taken care of, but that doesn’t mean we cannot learn from the powerful model of taking time to move slowly, rest peacefully, and act joyfully.
Go to any aisle at your local pet store and, no matter what type of animal you have, you’ll find a selection of appropriate toys or ways to engage in food and exercise for your pet. Pets love to play! They remind us that there is a fun-filled enjoyment outside of necessary work and survival. Sometimes that means exercising the mind with a puzzle type activity, sometimes it means exhausting the body physically, sometimes it means throwing a ball or batting around a spunky spool of yarn, or sometimes it is hiding in a leafy aquarium prop. Watching and interacting with our pets in these types of play remind us that we also need ways to blow off steam and lighten our mood with no pressure play and exercise.
Since pets cannot speak our language and vice versa, we must rely on deeper forms of communication. Animals can help us bring awareness to our energy and emotional exchange, if we pay attention. I might have a hard time recognizing my own anxiety, but I can see it full force when my dog’s hackles are raised and he is bouncing around the window excitedly as a neighbor walks down the street. Animals mirror to us our emotional states, and by building a stable relationship together we learn ways to connect and impact that does not rely solely on words.
Animals offer a bond that everyone needs to experience on some level. This is one reason they can be used in some types of therapeutic services. In their simple way of being and their ability to live fully in the present moment, animals offer us a gift of unconditional joy. Abraham Maslow, in his hierarchy of needs, did not discount the fact that humans have a real need to experience love and belonging. Not all people are able to find this type of connection in family or friends or romantic companions for various reasons. Pets can offer an opportunity to experience healing and retribution of the ability to love and belong through their unencumbered reliance on their caregivers.
During this pandemic, many animal shelters across the nation are experiencing difficulties caring for the usual volume of homeless animals. Many more animals have been surrendered because their caregivers have become ill or are unable to continue care during these times of uncertainty. Many local shelters are offering foster-to-adopt programs which both aids the shelter in caring for pets as well as offering caregivers an opportunity to take home a pet on a sort of trial basis before committing to adoption.
The National Humane Society offers a great FAQ section that addresses ways you can search for and assist your local animal shelters. In light of the pandemic crisis, many shelters are suspending adoption fees to remove the financial barrier for taking an animal into your care. If adopting is not a responsibility you are ready for, volunteering supplies is always a needed resource for animal shelters. There may even be some remote opportunities you could volunteer for, such as sharing adoptable animals through your social media or email connections for others to consider.