Have you ever wondered if owning a pet is good for you? Who wants to clean up after a pet, train a puppy, or find petsitters? It turns out, that the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. #pet #cat #dog #balance #selfcare #MentalHealthMonth #4Mind4Body #B4Stage4

May is Mental Health Month, and for the first time in a year, I’m breaking the MAPS rhythm. We’ll still focus on self-care, but the order won’t follow the MAPS format. This week I’ll start with the ‘A’—and this time it stands for animals!

Next week, I’ll circle back to the ‘M’ and share an interview and tips on how to know if your child needs to see a therapist. The third Self-Care Sunday of the month will follow the regular focus on physical self-care, and the fourth post in the series will highlight the importance of spiritual self-care.

About three years ago, while writing a series for Blessed (but Stressed) on mental health issues, I discovered that someone had designated May as Mental Health Month. Three years later, I finally decided I should research who came up with that term.

In 1949, Mental Health America, a group established to promote mental health awareness, started the first Mental Health Awareness Month. For the past ten years or so, they’ve had a theme for May and a conference in June that expands on that theme.

This year, MHA will expand its focus from 2018 and raise awareness about the connection between physical health and mental health, through the theme #4Mind4Body. They will explore the topics of animal companionship, spirituality and religion, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as ways to boost mental health and general wellness.

Get a Pet for Balanced Self-Care

Have you ever wondered if owning a pet is good for you? Who wants to clean up after a pet, train a puppy, or find petsitters? It turns out, that the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. #pet #cat #dog #balance #selfcare #MentalHealthMonth #4Mind4Body #B4Stage4

So, let’s talk about animals, pets in particular. I have read studies about the benefits of watching fish for lowering blood pressure, but when most people think about pets, they think of cats and dogs. Pedro has an allergic reaction to cats, so that meant if we ever wanted to be pet people, we’d need a dog. I know, they have hypoallergenic cats, but we couldn’t afford one.

In 2003 we purchased our first family pet. I thought Pedro needed a companion (he spent a lot of time alone recovering from cancer). The girls needed to learn responsibility, and caring for a pet would provide the perfect avenue. And me? I wanted a running partner that would scare off both animals and humans.  

After researching for months, I finally found the perfect German Shepherd puppy. She had a fancy registered name, but since we had just added one more female to the family, Pedro decided to call her Clancy (after Tom, the author).

By the end of that summer, we had decided that Pedro would homeschool our girls for a year. After his catastrophic cancer encounter, he still couldn’t work a full day (he received a stem-cell transplant on January 3, 2003). Pedro, Laura, and Sarah made Clancy’s care and training part of their homeschool experience, and we all enjoyed teaching her new skills.

The World’s Most Incredible Dog

I could probably write a whole book about Clancy’s amazing intelligence and capacity to train her humans. Needless to say, we spent many happy hours with her as a family (she loved hiking and canoeing). Just writing this little bit about her has me tearing up, so I’ll keep my eulogies short. Clancy could use her big brown eyes to get me to do anything—take her on twice-daily walks, throw the ball/stick/feather/snowball just one more time, and open doors.

She had a litter of puppies in December of 2008, and we gave the youngest to our daughter Laura for Christmas that year. When Laura went away to college two years later, I had two dogs to care for, but I didn’t mind. Bella (Laura’s dog) lived with us until 2014, when Laura finished college and moved into a rental house that allowed pets. Clancy had passed away in 2012, shortly after we moved to Arizona.

Did you know pets can lower your triglyceride levels? Mind blown. Thanks @HABRITweets for educating me! #4Mind4Body Click To Tweet

The Positive Benefits of Pet Ownership

About four years ago, I noticed that my triglycerides and bad cholesterol had started to climb. Each year, it registered a little higher. I figured that stress and heredity caused the change, because I eat very little cholesterol as a life-long vegetarian.

It turns out, my cholesterol levels may have risen because I didn’t have a pet anymore. Yes, you read that right. According to habri.org (Human Animal Bond Research Institute), having a pet can lower your triglycerides and bad cholesterol.

Pets can have a positive impact on your mental health as well. According to HABRI, pets can help people with mental illnesses regulate their diagnosis, relieve stress, reduce loneliness, combat anxiety, and avoid depression.

These posters from habri.org highlight the benefits of cats over dogs, as well as explain the ‘Pet Effect.’ They might come in handy if you need to convince someone else in the household why you need a pet as a form of balanced self-care.

HABI.org has some great reasons for owning a cat. Maybe you can relate? #pet #cat #balance #selfcare #MentalHealthMonth #4body4mind
Go to www.habri.org for more information!

Self-care and Pet Ownership

Animals have a positive effect on our physical and mental wholeness. This makes pets the perfect long-term solution to some of our basic self-care needs such exercise, mental health, and cardiovascular health.

Yes, pets require a lot of work (especially puppies), but the benefits outweigh the annoyances. Just keep your valuables out of the way of sharp little puppy teeth. After writing this, I’m rethinking our decision to not get another dog…don’t tell Pedro!

Q4U: Have you ever had a pet that impacted your life in positive ways?

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17 Comments

  1. I’m a dog lover and allergic to cats, so dogs have always been a present companion in our home until a couple of years ago, Anita. Our dog, Cheyenne, had to be put down due to old age and a bad hip (couldn’t get up our stairs), among several other health concerns and problems. Now we’ve held off on getting another dog because we might relocate, though nothing is immediately in the works. I do think pets bring calmness and companionship to our lives and I’m so glad yours even lowered your cholesterol levels! How cool is that?! Thanks for sharing about the benefits! I think they are wonderful additions to our families and lives! Pinning and tweeting, my friend!

  2. Anita,
    I’m also a HUGE dog lover. I had three different dogs growing up and then have had three dogs of my own. Two are deceased and one is a beagle and going strong at age 11. I tear up when I think of the funny and compassionate things these wonderful dogs have done. I think they are the very definition of unconditional love and what psyche couldn’t use some of that? I know just petting my dogs, I began to breathe slower and I could tangibly feel a sense of calm come over me. Your levels dropping doesn’t surprise me one bit. My dogs even taught me lessons about God. I guess you could call me smitten 🙂 Loved this article!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx
    Bev @ Walking Well With God recently posted…Come to Him As a Child – Plus Giveaway!My Profile

  3. Great post Anita!
    My pets Bobbie, a Blue Russian cat & Polly, my working Australian Kelpie were such a blessing through my late husband’s terminal illness & in the years that followed his death.
    They are both gone now but the memories are very sweet.
    Bless you,
    Jennifer
    Tea With Jennifer recently posted…Inner Narratives…My Profile

  4. Interesting post! I have never had a pet. I always wanted one as a child but wasn’t able to. I didn’t realise there were so many health benefits!

  5. I love your comment about our pets training us. That has been my experience over and over again. We’ve had a dog, a cat, that after 20 years died last year, and now a 3 ounce green cheek conure. She is the friendliest, cudldlist, and most curious bird. We are her flock and she wants to spend every minute she can with us. Perched on our shoulder, snuggled up to our neck, sitting on top of our head, or walking on us. Who would think a bird would be a good pet, but she is. Pets definitely benefit us a lot. Ask a pet lover about their pet, and they will gush and go on like a grandparent about their grandkids.
    Theresa Boedeker recently posted…Reframing the Truth in an Old StoryMy Profile

  6. For those interested, in Hebrew the word kelev is dog, now look at the word for heart, lev. God put them in our hearts for a reason. I loved all my poodles, I have a Yorkie and a parrot, and baby cardinal in the roses. Poodles are very clean, intelligent and trainable, but there is the grooming, they don’t shed, and if you don’t plan on puppies, have the spaying done, it cuts down their cancer risks. And if you need a big dog, there are standards and they even do search and rescue. Grieving the loss of a pet is comparable to a family member, people always tell me they won’t go through it again, but I tell them to get the dog, that is years away Hope that helps. The best story I heard about that was that a little boy watched the vet put down his dog, when asked how he felt, he said he was alright, ” Dogs don’t live as long because they already know how to love, it takes people longer to learn. “

  7. I knew pets could contribute to a healthier life, but I didn’t know about how much! Thanks for sharing this informative article! Methinks I need to spend more time with our dogs outside. Blessings to you, Anita!

  8. I am 100% with you on pets promoting mental health. After my dad passed away, we bought my mom a Siamese cat. She always loved cats, but Dad did not. That cat (named Taj) was the most spoiled pet in the world. She was a wonderful companion to my mom until she had a stroke and had to live in an assisted living facility. We took Taj in and she lived to be 21 years old! Thank you for resurrecting those wonderful memories of a special cat!
    Laurie recently posted…Strike a Pose; Feel the PowerMy Profile

  9. I can hardly believe Ive almost had Luna kitty for a year already. A friend said to me recently, “You needed Luna and Luna needed You.” That is so true!

  10. Totally agree. Pets really do help with your mental wellness. They truly love you so unconditionally and brings out the best in you.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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