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BLOG: ANIMALS HELP YOUR WELLBEING

By Lisa Riddell 

Therapets

Dog lovers will recognise the instant mood boost a four legged friend can bring.  Just watching a gorgeous pooch trotting down the street in front of you can be enough to bring a smile to your face and some warmth to your heart.  That is why, at the Wellbeing College, we offer Therapet sessions during our Tuesday morning Hub.  Students of the College can enjoy the benefits of spending time with a dog, with none of the responsibilities of pet ownership!

Two of my beautiful dogs, pictured here, are registered Therapets.  Cody and Sasha bring joy to my life every day and I am thankful for the contribution they make to my wellbeing and delighted to take part in Therapet volunteering.

Dogs who are registered with a Therapet scheme will have been subject to an assessment (as will the handler!) to make sure they are suitable for the role.

Therapet dogs have to be calm, enjoy human contact and be able to accept dog treats gently from a human hand.

If you think your dog would make a good Therapet and you would be interested in volunteering, find out more about the scheme by contacting the Canine Concern Scotland Trust or visit us at the Wellbeing College Hub on a Tuesday morning between 10am and 1pm. 

Health Benefits

Studies have shown that pet owners have lower blood pressure than people who don’t have any animals in their life.  Owning a dog can also contribute to improved physical health if you walk briskly for thirty minutes with your dog every day.

And it is not only your physical health that can improve, owning a dog can bring benefits to mental wellbeing too.  Caring for a dog can give you a sense of purpose in day to day life and getting out of the house with your dog can increase the likelihood of more human contact for you, perhaps providing a way forward in tackling the growing feelings of loneliness reported by many people.

Responsible Pet Ownership

Having a dog can bring such joy to a human life, but the responsibility of owning a dog should never be taken lightly.  We need to think of the dog’s wellbeing too!  Dogs can be expensive to look after with the cost of their food, bedding and toys to consider, as well as training classes and trips to the vet to budget for.  Financial responsibilities aside, dogs need your time and company.  Dog owners also have to be prepared to exercise their dog, even in bad weather, and don’t be fooled that small dogs do not require much exercise.  My pack is made up entirely of small dogs, but they have a lot of energy!  I would urge anyone who is thinking about getting a dog to carefully consider the commitment they are taking on and ask for advice from an animal rescue charity if you are unsure about owning a dog.

If Ownership is Out

If you believe having a dog would boost your wellbeing, but you are unable to own a dog yourself, why not look for Therapet sessions in your area, like the one we offer at the Wellbeing College.  You could also consider volunteering at a local animal rescue centre, or offer to help relatives, neighbours or friends with their dogs.  This could provide a double boost to your wellbeing, by giving you time with a four legged friend as well as the feel good factor that comes from helping other people.

Learning from Dogs

I believe we can learn a lot from the dogs in our lives.  They take pleasure in simple things in life, wagging their tails when we talk to them and getting excited about their breakfast, even if it’s the same biscuits they get every day!  Dogs are great at living in the moment and starting each day fresh, without regret about what has passed or apprehension about what is to come.  This can be a real challenge for us humans and I know I often find myself lost in thoughts and have to make an effort to live in the moment.  My dogs definitely help me with this, as they are good at bringing my attention back to them and when they roll over for a tummy rub this causes me to focus on the task at hand! 

I would encourage anyone who loves dogs to think about how they could help your wellbeing, be that through the benefits of owning a dog, Therapet volunteering, attending a Therapet session or helping at animal rescue centres.  In my experience, the effort I put into looking after my dogs is repaid in full, as they make a huge contribution to my wellbeing every day.

Lisa Riddell is Health in Mind's Community Mental Health and Wellbeing Manager based in the Borders, and Therapet Volunteer.

 

And here are some other thoughts on the benefits of pets to your wellbeing:

Rory the cat:

‘I adopted Rory two years ago from Fife Cat Shelter. I got him from a shelter when he was 10 months old. It was love at first sight: I went into his pen, he came immediately towards me, and sat down on my lap as I sat down on the floor. Since then, he sleeps with me every night, which actually is very comforting, because I know everything is ok when he is at my feet. He is also a good companion to come home to after a day’s work: he makes me forget everything that may have happened during the day, because as soon as I enter the door, he rolls on the floor expecting belly rubs, then miaows loudly asking for his dinner. After dinner, it is playtime – the human has to play with a piece of string. Only when Sir Rory becomes tired is it time to sit down with a cup of tea, of course with him on my lap!’

Milo the Mascot of our ROWAN group in Midlothian

‘I work from the Orchard Centre with the Rowan group so spend most of my two working days here outside.  On Thursdays we visit different volunteer projects to do gardening, conservation etc and on Fridays I run the Green Hub Group in the Secret Garden in Dalkeith.  I also bring my 9 month old dog, Milo, along to the groups and he has been named Milo the Mascot. 

Here are some quotes from other members of ROWAN:

‘They make you feel more at ease.  Feels like a security blanket with your dog because you always get attention from them.  They are good company.  Milo gives you big doggy hugs!’

‘He’s a ray of sunshine.’

‘Very lovely dog.  Very friendly.  I look forward to seeing him every week.  He makes me feel happy.  Can’t wait to see him from one week to another week.’