Animal Assuagement

Pets and Pet Therapy

Magical furry and feathered ways to cope with winds of change.

By Karen Campbell

Photograph by Shantel Whittaker

For many of us, pets are family. By and large, businesses accommodate them, parks cater to them, and yoga classes include them. Animal-assisted therapies can be used in PTSD rehabilitation, patient recovery, aiding those with special needs, and in providing emotional support. Literature dating back to the ninth century and recent studies confirm the positive effects that these charmed pets and creatures have on our wellness. It seems they possess a sorcery, able to cast a spell of unconditional love and calm during periods of anxiety, depression, loss and uncertainty. Even in good times, they remain willing and ready to offer affection and companionship.

It’s well documented that our beloved dogs and cats – the most common pets – help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and loneliness, and elevate mood.  But, abracadabra, even a tank full of fish may have hocus-pocus! This non-threatening, hypnotic stimulus can elicit calm. Studies have found that aquarium-watching can reduce stress and anxiety, increase relaxation and decrease heart rate and muscle tension. These benefits apply to contained domestic reptiles, too, which may offer appeal to those who have (furry) pet allergies.

Animals other than pets

The more time spent indoors, the more depressed and anxious we can become.  Masks, mandates and relegation to our homes may create situational depression, and this calls for a little magic. Take the reins and head to greener pastures. “Horses have a sixth-sense. They recognize and adapt to us as if we’re part of their herd. Riding can provide a very relaxing relationship, and it’s a great way to unwind and have fun with these gentle animals,” said University of South Carolina Head Equestrian Coach Boo Major. She suggests lessons or trail riding, especially for beginners.

If saddling up isn’t for you, birdwatching provides a change of scenery, and an opportunity to connect with nature and activate your mind. Research shows people who interact with nature and who have the ability to watch birds also have a lower risk of depression, stress and anxiety.  The same applies to butterfly watching.  Apparently, wings even disperse a bit of magic dust.

If you can’t own a pet, don’t fret. Even without a pet at home, there are ways to be enchanted by our non-human pals. Consider volunteering at a local animal shelter. Offer to pet sit, or visit the zoo or a park. Arrive early to a dental appointment to be mesmerized by the fish tank. Or simply patronize a local pet store to sit a spell.

A little pet therapy can relieve stress, maintain calm, and help us adjust our sails when the wind does not blow our way.