Who Let the Cats and Dogs Out!?
During these challenging times many of us have turned to our pets for comfort and support. These adorable creatures follow us around the house and look at us in way no one else does. It’s as if we’re the only thing that matters to them in the whole wide world and in a way, we are. For me my dogs are healers and they have been getting me through the shelter in place one lick and one snuggle at a time. Dont take my word for it, research shows that pets can help support our mental health and elevate our mood! A recent research article found that service dogs helped veterans with PTSD improve their mental health. Veterans who participated in the study reported lower levels of depression as well as lessened symptoms of PTSD! Another research article found that individuals dealing with a variety mental health challenges greatly benefited from having a furry pet companion. We love reading research, but we also love hearing straight from the horse’s mouth and so we asked a pet parents to share their own experience with their fur babies.
My two precious fur babies. On the one hand they keep me active: taking them on walks, chasing them around the house, and keeping up with their obedience training helps me feel productive throughout the day. On the other hand, and this is what helps my mental health the most, they remind me to slow down. There are days when my mind is running 100mph and I’m cleaning, cooking, working, etc. and I pass by my bedroom and there they are snoozing away. It makes me pause and want to join them, and most of the time, I do! They keep me active and remind me that rest is necessary, what more can I ask for. My fur babies mean the world to me and they have saved me from anxiety attacks so many times. Not to mention they make great therapists— I know I’m not the only one talking to my pets about my problems lol. They know exactly when I need them most it’s like they can sense my stress. They walk up to me with that puppy face and I imagine they are saying “mom, you look stressed, pet me and you’ll feel better.”
Staying at home with my fur babies has made quarantine a much more enjoyable experience. They’re constantly by my side so I never feel lonely, and they’re always doing cute or funny things that make me smile and laugh. I love the sense of responsibility they’ve given me as well—there’s no slacking off when it comes to being a dog parent! Every day I wake up and make them breakfast, then they nap beside me in the home office while I write and publish articles. Throughout the day I take breaks to spend some time with them in our garden–they love sunbathing! In the evening after things have cooled down, my husband and I take them for a walk which is a nice way to unwind after a busy day. On weekends, we have movie nights on the couch and snuggle together in one dog big pile—it’s the best.
Research over the years has shown that living with pets offers various health benefits, including decreased stress and lower rates of depression. Many more people are adopting and fostering animals during COVID-19. The timing is perfect right now because many of us are spending more time at home, so it’s a great opportunity to bond with a furry friend, not to mention that there are many animal shelters that are in need right now. If I didn’t have pets, I would certainly look into adopting. You’ll have a lifelong companion who is loyal, never judges you, and gosh darn cute to boot!
Pet parent: Dr. Christine Rivera
Echo is a blue pit, who loves sunbathing, cuddles, and butt scratches. He’s been in my life for four years now. During this shelter-in-place he has been my accountability partner for moving my body. He is an 80lb Pitbull who needs a lot of movement; he reminds me to walk, play, and move amidst the chaos and stress. I think he also teaches me to find joy in being outdoors and being together. I love how present he is and how instinctually he listens to his body. If he’s sleepy, he sleeps, if he’s hungry he eats. I try to also give my body what it needs during these stressful times, he’s such a good reminder.
Meet: Capone the Cat
Pet Parent: Alejandra Alvarez, AMFT
This whole COVID-19 experience has been surreal. Not only from a personal perspective but also from a professional perspective. Evolving my practice and how I provide the best mental health services for my clients while working from home has forced me to step out of my comfort zone; something I don’t do very often. Through all the madness, having Capone has been a source of happiness.
Capone is an energetic, happy, and very vocal cat. My husband and I have had him for over 2 years, and while it hasn’t always been easy, we feel pretty lucky to have him, especially during this quarantine. Thinking back at how Capone has helped me stay sane and motivated I realized that he is my main source of “normal.” Cats are creatures of habit; they eat, play, sleep, run, etc. on schedule. This has super helpful because it has made me stick to schedule and even on the days when I feel low, I know that he depends on me and it motivates me to keep going. Capone demands to be seen and heard; when I have spent too much time staring at the computer or working, he makes sure to jump on my desk and refocus my attention to him. While I realize this might be selfish on his part (he loves cuddles) it also allows me to take a break! If he were not there to keep me in check, I might spend all day at the computer working without taking a much-needed break. Petting him and hearing his purrs are also therapeutic for me. Being a therapist during times like these means that we take on the fears, anxieties, negative thoughts, and overall hopelessness of our clients. Sometimes we too need an outlet, and Capone has become my little furry outlet of purrs and sometimes bites lol.
Capone is also a source of hope for me. I spend a great deal of time providing my clients and family with hope that things will go back to normal and that we need to stay strong in the face of adversity. If I am being 100% honest, sometimes I need a reminder too. Capone will come up for cuddles while I am resting or just sitting in my living room and he reminds me that, while life might be different right now, the things that matter and brings us true joy are still present. Yes, his little face and belly bring me so much joy!
I am very thankful for Capone.
When I moved to the USA I did not know how hard the cultural adjustment would be, including finding friends. Now, being at home, the difficulties of social interaction are worse. Elektra is now my everyday company, she is there for me and it makes me responsible. She has kept my mental health since the quarantine started because there are activities I have to do for her such as walking, feed her, bath her, play with. Keeps me active and provides a routine for her and for me. Elektra has helped me to improve and maintain not only my physical activity but also my mental health.
Gus and Sophie are both Yorkshire terriers and biological brother/sister. Sophie is 6 years old, she loves naps, sunbathing, cuddling, and snacks. Sophie is disabled and needs extra attention sometimes. Gus is 4 years old and loves sunbathing, treats, and running around in circles. We recently moved to a bigger place outside the city and one of the main reasons was that we wanted both Gus and Sophie to have more space. We are blessed that this move happened before the shelter in place back in March. Having more room and watching them enjoy themselves in the balcony brings a huge smile to our faces. This whole transition has brought about an array of adjustments, but having them around has made it a lot easier. My favorite thing is waking up and watching them stretch. They always know when it’s time for a walk and they help us get our morning started. When we are having a rough time Gus and Sophie always cheer us up. They can be a handful, but at the end of the day they make our lives so much sweeter! Gus and Sophie have become more than just our pets, they are our babies. We love them and worry about them. We are firm believers in the mental health benefits of having furry companions. Gus and Sophie has helped us through so many difficult moments in our lives by making us laugh, cuddling with us, and keeping us moving even when we feel down. We have so much love for our babies and we are grateful to be blessed by them for as long as they stay on this earth.
Meet: Papacito Chi Chi Bon Bon Acevedo Rivera Muñoz
Pet Parent: Kimberlynn La Femme Papi
Meet my first-born fur child, Papacito Chi Chi Bon Bon Acevedo Rivera Muñoz, a former stray dog who is very charming and a little travieso (naughty). Since adopting Papacito 7 months ago from a senior dog shelter, I was able to climb out of a year-long major depressive episode and have not looked back!
Papacito is easily a key factor for my wellbeing and resilience during this stressful COVID-19 pandemic. He has been so uplifting, sharing his medicine with me in so many ways each and every day. His presence alone reminds me that he is a being, like myself, who wants/needs connection, safety, and to experience joy. It reminds me that we have each other and that we get to create and share those experiences with one another. I see how he relies on me and I am grateful that I can provide for him and keep him safe and healthy. He also reminds me that I, too, rely on myself and that I need to take care of myself as much as I take care of him.
As a PSDIT (Psychiatric Service Animal in Training), Papacito is trained to interrupt myself harming behaviors. He helps me feel like it is safe enough to return to reality and to my body when I am experiencing dissociation and don’t realize it. His love and charm are so effortless and potent, I can’t help but feel my love-swollen heart and my gratitude– both things that keep me present, connected, and co-regulated. Ultimately, Papacito reminds me of the joy and the love I can experience at any given moment. He reminds me that no matter what I’m experiencing, no matter how dark my internal world may be, I still possess the ability to feel love and joy– and that is seriously hope-inducing and healing!
We want to thank all the wonderful pet parents who participated and shared their stories!
Luis is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who graduated from Long Beach State University with a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology (2015). He also has a Bachelors's degree in Child and Adolescent Development with an emphasis on Public Policy from San Francisco State University (2011). Luis has over 9 years of experience working with children and families both in education and mental health. Previously, Luis worked for a non-profit agency in San Francisco, CA providing mental health consultation in early head start programs and SFUSD pre-schools. Currently, Luis works at Kaiser in San Francisco providing mental health services.
His therapeutic interests include working with Trauma, the LGBTQ community, Children, Families, Couples, and POC. His personal interests include; Films, Reading, Writing, Art, Travelling, Disney, and Food. He is also a recipient of the California State Stipend award (2015). PsychoSocial is part of Luis' dedication to mental health and an example of his passion to educate others. Luis hopes that through PsychoSocial he will be able to help in the fight to end the stigma around mental illness.