The benefits of pet therapy
MOST PET owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with companion animals. However, many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend. It is only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond.
Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health.
Tina Hamilton, senior manager at Pet Foods, said pets, according to several studies, have proven to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and positively affect brain function.
“They also elevate serotonin and dopamine levels, so they make you feel good and keep you relaxed. I know sometimes that seems crazy when your puppy chews on your new shoes, but eventually when they look up with their big eyes, you cannot help but forgive them. The unconditional love from pets is incomparable,” Hamilton said.
While it is true that people with pets often experience greater health benefits than those without, a pet does not necessarily have to be a dog or a cat.
“I think most people think about dogs as emotional support animals, but you would be surprised the number of animals that people tell us about. Cats, of course, are high on the list, but people can have meaningful relationships with their rabbits and horses, farm animals like goats and pigs, and we have even had a young man praise his pet snake for helping him keep calm during study time. Important to note, he doesn’t live in Jamaica. I am not sure how we would feel about hugging a snake or lizard. But I think as long as you have a connection with the animal, they will affect you emotionally and, as it turns out, physiologically as well,” Hamilton said.
Studies have shown that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
“For serious conditions, it is important to get animals trained in that area of expertise. But I think all of us go through life issues sometimes – loneliness, depression – just needing comfort. I see where pets can help. And if you do not have one for yourself, you can surround yourself with animals and you will see how quickly your mood can change,” Hamilton said.
One of the reasons for the therapeutic effects is that pets fulfil the basic human need for touch. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you are stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.
“The past few years have been difficult for us all. I know that the animal shelters in Jamaica saw an uptick in adoption during the pandemic years. I always urge people, though, to understand the responsibility of having a pet. Even though they come with a lot of benefits, they do need proper care full-time,” Hamilton said.
Puppy therapy sessions hosted by True Pet Food have been helping persons in the workplace to be calm, reduce stress and anxiety, and definitely bring out the smiles and giggles.
“During COVID we all felt a little bit isolated. I realised that the people at my office felt down and decided to bring in some puppies one day to help cheer them up. It worked. In fact, it worked so well that they requested this to be a weekly activity. Clearly, we couldn’t do that, but word got around and people from other companies started requesting what they deemed puppy therapy days,” Hamilton said.
The project was intended to last through the pandemic. But after, she was still getting requests from workplaces and schools of persons who want to participate. At this point, Hamilton said they are working to make this a permanent service that True Pet will provide.
“As usual, the dogs are our priority, and we do all we can to ensure their safety. We work directly with our preferred breeders for this programme. We bring puppies/dogs from eight weeks up to four years old. All must be social and have all up-to-date vaccinations. The area of play is cleaned before and after their visit, and all human hands are washed and sanitised before they are allowed to hold the dogs. For smaller puppies, participants wear gloves to hold them. We do not mix litters, and there are frequent water and potty breaks in-between sessions,” Hamilton said.
The feedback, she said, has been overwhelmingly positive. “Not one participant so far has had a negative experience, including the puppies. They enjoy the attention. We get photos sent to us, sometimes several weeks later, telling us that the memory of the experience makes them happy, or persons will message us complaining that they were out that day and they beg us to come back, so that they can get a chance to hug a puppy,” Hamilton said.
“People will be in full office wear lying on the ground in high heels, saying that they got out of tough meeting, but the dogs make everything better. Kids at schools have asked us to allow them to keep the puppies during their exams because they help with their anxiety. We also leave little keepsakes with participants in the form of our therapy posters, which are photos of our True Jamaican Dogs with authentic Jamaican feel-good sayings. Honestly, we are just grateful that we get to spread a little joy where possible. We will keep doing it as long as we are able,” Hamilton added.
Persons interested in having a puppy therapy session can contact @truepetfoods on Instagram or telephone 876-4581879. Persons can also participate at the True Pet Expo on November 12 at the Hope Zoo, free of cost.