Mental health is something that has affected each and every single one of us since the start of the pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, youth have experienced the most significant decline since the pandemic has started, and those who were already suffering from mental health problems have only continued to be further impacted by COVID. Nearly 50% of Canadians are experiencing poor mental health since the start of the pandemic, and women are reporting lower levels of mental health than men. Additionally, people who had reported a decline in mental health were also more likely in turn to report increased substance abuse, more prominently in younger males. Plain and simple, all ages, genders, races, etc. are feeling tremendous strain mentally due to the virus. It’s no surprise many people have turned to their pets, especially in terms of new adoptions, to try to help themselves feel a little better.
Pets are a great source of motivation for people, because it gives them the chance to be responsible for a living being other than themselves. I know I am speaking from experience when I say that when my mental health was faltering and I had days when I truly did not want to leave my bed, knowing that I had to get up and take care of my cat was enough to get me moving. Dogs in particular are a great source of encouragement for people to get outside of the house to walk their pets, which is a win-win since you’re getting some exercise in, as well as taking advantage of being out in the sun and the fresh air, both of which are excellent for mental health. Walking a dog can also provide people with some much needed social interaction with fellow dog walkers! As an article from Rested Paws stated: “By caring for a dog, you get two amazing feelings: one, the ability to connect with someone else, and two, the ability to feel like you are needed by someone”. More than 90% of those who participated in a research study in the UK stated their pet has helped them cope during the lockdown, as well as keeping them active. In addition, playing with a pet directly elevates your levels of serotonin and dopamine, two of the chemicals in your brain that are responsible for your happiness. Moreover, having a pet can help tremendously with anxiety by providing sensory stress relief. Again, speaking from experience, if I’m feeling anxious and I’m home, I always seek my cat out and just spend a few minutes petting her and listening to her purr and I instantly feel better.
Owning a pet is greatly beneficial for seniors and children alike, the two populations most affected by COVID. For seniors, they can provide meaning in life, especially considering many of us are worried about seeing our elderly loved ones for fear of unknowingly transmitting them the virus; having a pet to care for would drastically reduce the loneliness our seniors are feeling, in addition to helping them stay active. For children, it’s a great way for them to not only learn responsibility, compassion, and care for another living being, but to also help ease separation anxiety, reinforce positive self-image, and overall feel a deeper sense of calm amidst the troubles of the current outside world.
Ultimately, having a pet to care for can give you a sense of purpose and much needed companionship, in addition to being an entity of support and motivation. There’s just something so special about having a friend there who doesn’t judge you, scold you, or make you feel poorly about yourself. A pet’s love is consistent and unconditional, and in a world full of inconsistency and uncertainties, it provides us with an oasis of mental wellbeing, emotional stability, and happiness.
What’s also worth mentioning is that if you are unable to have a pet of your own, but still would like to experience all the benefits of having a pet while also making a difference in others’ lives, fostering is an amazing opportunity. There is always a need for fosters, and in fostering a pet, you are emptying up space in the shelter for other pets in need to have a safe space; it’s a win win!
If you’re interested in fostering or want to learn more, head to https://aarcs.ca/foster/!
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