I will just start with a disclaimer that if you don't like animals (mainly cats) or don't believe they can help physical and mental illnesses then this post may not be for you, however if you are confused at what I mean by help physical and mental illnesses, keep reading.
The title is something that many people may of heard of before, usually in the form of a PAT dog who visits residential homes and hospital to help cheer up and help patients and residents in a therapeutic manner. As someone who has grown up being the daughter of a care home manager and then going on to become a student nurse myself, I have seen pet and animal assisted therapy a lot and seen how much good comes from something that has no idea how happy it is making people. PAT dogs are very common and popular, especially in the UK, and many care establishments have a regular PAT dog that visits individuals who get great pleasure out of having a companion for a while; something to stroke, pet, cuddle with, play with or simply admire. The Pets As Therapy website linked here gives a lot more information on how and why this type of therapy is so amazing, but for this blog post I'm going to be talking about my experience with how any pet can be therapy for someone, whether they know it or not.
Many people do assume that for an animal to have any therapeutic effect on an individual, it has to be trained in doing so. Personally, I think this is rubbish. Yes, PAT dogs and some therapy animals are specially trained to obey commands, sit nicely on people's laps, allow people to stroke them and be used to a lot of human interaction for the main purpose that without the training, the behaviour of the animal is unpredictable. Trainers do not want patients who are meant to be being therapeutically cared for to be bitten, scratched, hissed at or barked at as this leaves a dollop of negativity for all those who encountered it. However, I personally believe that any animal, so long as it has a good and friendly relationship with you, can give just as much, if not more, individualised therapy as a trained puppy can.
In February this year, my Mum and Dad bought me a kitten for my 21st birthday. They told me to choose the one I liked the best and that she would be my kitten that I could build a relationship with and use her to cheer me up whenever I'm scared or low. It was the most amazing present I got, and the thought that had been put into it was incredible. I named her Darcy and she was beautiful. She was crazy but she loved to cuddle and she loved being around me. From the very first day we brought her home, she changed my mood instantly. I've always been a cat person and grown up with a cat all my life, but after a period of 2 years without one, having a 15 week old kitten to play with and cuddle and show me affection really honestly helped my anxiety a lot. She not only helped me, she helped my whole family, who at the time also needed something to lift spirits when they were low and bring smiles to faces.
Heart breakingly, Darcy passed away at 5 months old from a hereditary, incurable infection which was so so sad. The four weeks the family had without her was hard, especially for me, as I saw Darcy as a symbol for the strength, development and growth I endured with my anxiety. There was nothing to go and pick up and cuddle is I was scared or sad, nothing to sit and laugh at running around the room, nothing to come and lick my face in the mornings and want to be with me all the time. For me, I needed a new forever friend to help me and the effects of my anxiety and panic disorder like Darcy did as I started to feel all the negative thoughts and feelings starting to come flooding back. Whether that was because I missed her or whether it was because I was so saddened at losing what made me gain my confidence and strength, I don't know, but I know I needed to do something. That's when I found Nellie.
Nellie is far from normal and is 100% more dog than cat. She is the only cat that I've seen carry toys around in her mouth and rip them to shreds. She parades around the house with underwear in her mouth that she's recovered from the laundry basket and cries when she can't find you in the house. Nellie was bought at 9 months old from a lovely couple who couldn't keep her any longer and needed a new home for her. From the minute I saw her, I fell in love. The first thing her previous owner said to me was "that's strange, she doesn't usually cuddle up to people like she is doing with you" which made me feel like I had to bring her home with me. She needed a new home and I needed a new therapy cat that could help me relieve stresses, calm me down, relax me from the whirlwind of emotions floating around my head, and make me smile and laugh. Now, almost 2 months on, she really does bring me so much happiness. Her personality is so crazy and different to anything I've ever seen, but she is so loving and caring too. The best bit about Nellie is she can recognise when I'm low or anxious and will come and sit on or near me. Sometimes, that's all I need. She sat with me while I revised for my last exam and just having her there to stroke and speak in my stupid high "kitty" voice relieves stress I didn't know could be relieved.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that animals and pets that you live with and have a relationship with really can be all you need to calm you down if you start to feel anxious, or make you smile while you feel low. Something as simple as stroking her or her choosing to sit with me while I watch the TV gives me such a positive boost like no human has ever been able to give me. I know for those of you who don't have pets or even those that do but don't understand how cats or dogs can have this effect on people, take my word for it. My mental health has been helped so much by my little furry friend. I would honestly recommended anyone who doesn't have a pet to get one if you need some therapeutic help with your health, whether that be physical or mental.
(Apologies for how crazy-cat-lady this post sounds but I write posts on my blog that help me and inspire others)
Love Luce xo