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April Mental Health Memo: Celebrating National Pet Day

 This month’s author Cassandra Santiago is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) at the Human Services Center.  Santiago is also an American Council of Exercise (ACE) Health Coach.

Animals are a simple pleasure that bring joy to many people almost immediately upon hearing or seeing them. People have depended on animals for food, clothing, assistance, and transportation on a regular basis since ancient times. Historically, the relationship between man and animals was hunter and prey. Animals were viewed primarily as a source of food and skins for clothing.

Although animals still maintain many traditional uses around the world, the role of some animals in society has changed over time. In the last several hundred years, there has been an increase in the number of animals used for companionship. Dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, and a multitude of other creatures are commonly used these days for pleasure and comfort as a household pet.

Having a pet not only provides companionship and comfort, but it also teaches respect and responsibility. Owning a pet also has a variety of health benefits. 

1)    Reduces Stress Levels

Spending time with animals increases the level of oxytocin in your body which can help you feel happy and loved. This explains why we feel so bonded and close with our pets. Spending even five minutes with an animal can improve a person’s overall mood and reduce stress.

2)    Increase Social Interaction

Most animals are sociable animals; once given love, they can only return love. Pets typically enjoy the companionship of other animals and humans. It provides opportunities to socialize with other animal lovers through pet play dates or walking an animal outside.

3)    Assist People with Needs

Many times, animals are used as therapy, service, or emotional support animals to assist people with a variety of needs.

  • Service animals are specifically trained to perform a task for their owner such as providing compression for a panic attack, alerting the owner of low blood sugar, and many other tasks. These animals are not considered pets while working, they are known as working animals.

  • Emotional support animals are not trained in anything specific but are pets who are prescribed to their owner to provide the comfort and support they may need in a variety of settings.

  • Therapy animals are animals that go through a certification class before being used, many times, in hospital or school settings to provide support and comfort to people who may need a smile. The Human Services Center just gained two new therapy rabbits, Jim and Dwight, to use for starting an animal therapy program! The recreation therapists will be using the rabbits to help the clients reach their treatment goals, such as socialization, with the assistance of rabbits. Some other types of therapy animals include dogs, cats, and horses.

Overall, animals have an incredible gift of providing happiness and companionship to whoever they meet. Be extra thankful for your pet this month as we celebrate National Pet Day on April 11!

“Love of animals is a universal impulse, a common ground on which all of us may meet. By loving and understanding animals, perhaps we humans shall come to understand each other.”
                                                                   Louis J. Camuti