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 Marcia Purse

How does your pet help you live better with mental illness?

By January 31, 2013

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Kittens can be good therapistsMy three cats are undoubtedly good for my mental health. When Buzz gets under the covers and curls up against my leg, I fall asleep faster. Once when I was in physical pain that kept me from sleeping, I reached out to Lucy, who sleeps on a pillow beside my head, and concentrated on the feeling of her incredibly soft fur, focusing as much of my attention on my fingertips that felt not just the softness but her deep purr, and was able to drift away. When I'm so depressed I don't want to move, they make me get up to feed them. And they give me affection all day long.

For some people, pets provide even more therapy. Guest contributor Joy told us the story, The Cats Who Saved My Life. It is now possible to get psychiatric service dogs and other animals.

Do you have a story about your pet(s)? Leave a comment and tell everybody.

Learn more or join the conversation!
August 9, 2011 at 11:04 am
(1) Gilly says:

My dog Ziggy was my lifeline. When i couldnt move off the floor, out the door, anxiety, panic, depression, she was there
just being with me..She died unexpectedly aged 12, 2 weeks ago and it hurts so much. I feel like i am going backwards. I dont know what to do without her. The connection you have to your pets is amazing and they have such love for you.
RIP Ziggy, my angel xox
The most beautiful patient loving golden retriever!!

August 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm
(2) Carol says:

I am so sorry you lost your beloved dog. I also have multiple sclerosis and when I lost my beloved dog, I went into a relapse that lasted three months. I was terribly depressed and physically ill. I came out of it OK but I just wanted to tell you to please take care of yourself.

August 9, 2011 at 3:38 pm
(3) rider3 says:

Losing a pet can be like losing a person. I know some people will strongly disagree with me, but you cannot deny feelings. I hope you can find some peace. My deepest condolences.

September 14, 2011 at 11:34 am
(4) danniell says:

go find one at the rescue center nearest you that needs you back,it helps,because we need to be needed too.

August 9, 2011 at 11:44 am
(5) Meghan says:

I had been in a deep depression for over a year. Meds, therapy, even ECT hadn’t helped. My mother thought a dog of my own might help. Penny the Min Pin bonded to me immediately even though I initially rejected her-she never gave up on me. My mother told me Penny would not get fed or pottied unless I did it, so I was forced to move. I worked, slowly but surely. She’s 13 yrs old now. She’s my best friend, my most trusted confidant. My apartments let me have a pet with a note from my psychiatrist, it said “it is imparitive” I have my dog. Penny suffered severe separation anxiety when we moved out of my mom’s house. She ended up getting her own psych therapy dog. Keeping their schedule keeps me on my schedule, I cannot deny them a walk just because I am depressed, suicide isn’t an option-who would care for them?, focusing on them keeps my anxiety level down, socially loneliness is lessesned & I can talk to anyone about dogs.

August 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm
(6) Jo St. Clair says:

I am a teacher and I am back in school to get certified to work with children with autism. I got a new puppy in March and he will be perfect for pet therapy and I am planning on getting him certified in a few years (they have to be 2-3 years old). I would like for Atticus to join my classroom on a fulltime basis and I would also like to take him to PSYC. Hospitals for folks on the inside. During my stays in the hospital we had pet therapy time and it was wonderful for me and I also saw how great it was for others.
I have had 4 dogs. Each one has filled my life and helped me get through huge struggles. Starbuck was my “cancer” dog and Sally was my “alcohol recovery” dog. Sadly Starbuck and Sally have died. Sally died this last year at age 5 of cancer. Her death was very difficult but I have learned how to grieve in a healthy process.
I now have two boys, Harvey and Atticus. This summer I had knee replacement surgery and Atticus my 10 month old border collie mix has been the best therapy ever. He gets me up, he gives me kisses and cuddles. I could not ask for better. I would have loved to have Harvey home but he is a bit of a hand full and with his best friend Atticus it would be too much. Harvey is in good hands with my brother.
Pets are amazing and their unconditional love and devotion are the best therapy ever.

August 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm
(7) Carol says:

I worked as a social worker for many years with people who had developmental disabilities (Down Syndrome, Autism, Mental Retardation, Cerebral Palsy) and I saw first hand what pets could provide for these individuals. For myself, I also have Multiple Sclerosis and when I was diagnosed, my beloved dog went blind. She had uncontrollable diabetes. We had her on a strict diet and we gave her insulin shots twice per day. She taught me so much about bravery and just living in the moment. She really helped me with my MS diagnosis. When I lost that dog, I went into a relapse. I came out of the relapse just fine but I will never forget that dog!

August 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm
(8) Patty says:

when I purchased my choc lab i never dreamed she would become my therapy dog when I was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar. She has been my lifeline and when nothing else will help. I am lucky enough to work in the mental health field and my employeer allows me to bring her to work with me even though she is not officially certified therapy dog.

August 9, 2011 at 9:35 pm
(9) Toni says:

Where would I be without Tillie, she is not an animal to me, she is my world, she asks for nothing but love and food. When I am awake she is awake, when I snore she snores, when I am asleep she is asleep, she is never more than 4 foot away from me. I could not get through my day without seeing her great big meaningful eyes that just motivate me to get on living day to day. Tillie was sent to me as my guardian angel.
shizu/Lasa lover Toni

August 9, 2011 at 10:28 pm
(10) Laurie says:

My three pets are more than therapy, they have actually saved my life. I have had a terrible time with my diagnoses and finding the right combination of medications. Two years ago I was at my absolute lowest and was ready to end it all. The only thing that stopped me from ending my life was right at that moment I didn’t have anyone I could leave my dog and cat with that would take care of them and love them as much as I did. That gave me enough time to get to my doctor who sent me to the hospital. Not only did my animals save me that one weekend, but I feel that their love saves me everyday and keeps me alive. What animals can do for people is amazing. We are truely blessed to have them in our lives.

August 10, 2011 at 3:56 am
(11) kathtea says:

I am thankful to have found a friendly mongrel dog which ended up following me home and become my pet Misty. Misty is the happiest soul in my home and she’s always there for me ^^

August 11, 2011 at 11:18 pm
(12) susan says:

my dogs name is lily, although i have a wonderful supporting husband who i have put through hell over the years my dog knows before my husband when my moods are changing whether depression or elevated moods, she runs to my husband and nudges him especially if i am crying in another part of the house to tell him. and yes she comes to bed with me until my husband does as she knows that is our time. i am so blessed with my lily and husband.
i suffer from bipolar 2.

August 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm
(13) Lost.Cause says:

My cat and I have an unusual relationship. She is timid around most people, but loves me. When I leave the house or even just work in the yard, she cries for me and eats very little. Knowing how much she needs me, exclusively, I can’t stand the thought of doing anything that would prevent me from caring for her. Consequently, I must stay alive and reasonably healthy.
This has helped me in my deepest depressions.

February 5, 2013 at 11:42 am
(14) Carol says:

I would be dead if it were not for my two dogs, Cheri and Daisy! They need me and I need them just as much. My children who are older don’t understand this. I feel so secure and safe if my dogs are around. Lately I don’t like being around people who are loud or very noisy. Does anyone else have this problem?

February 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm
(15) Meghan says:

Penny the Min Pin saved my life. I’d been profoundly depressed for over a year, alternating between catatonic and rabid wailing. No meds helped, I was unable to effectively participate in therapy. On a good day I managed to brush my teeth & that’s about it. I was so desparate I tried ECT, which only made things worse. I lost my career, relationship, self worth, & ability to perform activities of daily living & living with my mom. She suggested I get a dog. I chose Penny. But really she chose me. It didn’t happen instantly, but I eventually was getting up, getting dressed, feeding her & walking her. She had issues too, so I learned about them & helped her fix them. Because of Penny, I now work with dogs that have behavior problems at an animal shelter, I teach basic obedience to clients & I head a committee for making sure the dogs’ psychological needs are met. Penny was with me for 14 yrs. Just a few months ago I had to have her put to sleep due to health problems. There is a big void in my life. I miss her SOOO much. I am struggling with a depression due to it, but it is normal grieving I think. I just miss the sound of her little feet following me where ever I go.

February 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm
(16) Rod says:

My pets are the only consistent source of unconditional positive regard in my life. I have dogs, one with me for 17 years (and still going), one with me for 11 years (and still going), one with me for 3 years (he has a lot of energy), and one just joined the family (wow, does she have energy). Without them I’m not sure I would be functional.

February 5, 2013 at 1:16 pm
(17) carolyn says:

My indoor/outdoor cat Panda is my best mate! She’s got a fab personality and as she comes in through the door she always has plenty to say to me, loads of funny meoooowwws and sounds …..she actually c=gave birth to her first kitten on top of me on my bed!!! I love all my colony of cats, the ones who live in my outdoor cat shed and all my visiting feline friends whom I include at meal-times should they turn up… I just love these wonderful beings. Im not well enough to cope with the responsibility of a dog at present, so cats who are quite independent do it for me!

February 5, 2013 at 2:57 pm
(18) joanne skinner says:

my pet lucy is a cat and my lifeline although i have very loving parents and two siblings my cat is the one who makes me smile every day with the little things that she does. i have chrons and chronic depression, and she makes me feel like life is worth living without doubt

February 5, 2013 at 5:03 pm
(19) Kathy Brannon says:

I got my first dog of my own after my 3rd child was born. I just had a strong feeling I needed a dog at that time, even though people thought it was crazy to add a dog to a family of 2 parents and 3 kids under 6, esp. with one only 6 mos. old! That child is on the autism spectrum, tho I did not know this at the time. Soon his problems started to manifest, and it was very stressful for me as his mother. He did not show much love to me in return, but my dog, Chelsea, certainly did! Because of my son’s problems, I doubted my mothering, but I knew I was taking great care of her! She always had to be within 6 ft. of me if not on my lap. The few times I left her with someone, she spent the entire time sitting by the door watching for me. She was a one-person dog, not very affectionate to other people, kind of a therapy dog before there were any for BP. I have BP II, and had had multiple hospitalizations, dozens of meds, etc. Three years after I got Chelsea, I became ill again, went in the hospital, got ECT, went on disability…and throughout it all, I was most worried about Chelsea! I knew my husband loved my kids and took great care of them, but I wasn’t so sure about Chelsea! She pined for me, and it helped to motivate me to get well and go home…..I have to say also, that many years later, I adopted a rescue dog and started working with rescues, but I went overboard and developed a mania or hypomania around those dogs (and the people at the rescue). I fostered a lot of dogs, adopted more than I should have, had a falling out with the rescue…it was a mess. I would not listen to my family or therapist or anyone, and as I have great powers of persuasion when I am manic, I overrode their objections and caused a mess. Just sayin’. Be careful and keep a watch on your mental state because even good causes can be bad for you when you’re sick!

February 6, 2013 at 12:30 am
(20) Dawn Schnepel says:

Hi, I am from South Africa, and they diagnosed BP with me 10 years ago. At first I had BP1 and I was admitted to a Neuro Clinic for 3 weeks for my depression I had. I was at my lowest state, but when I got back home who was waiting for me – my cats! At that stage I had 4 cats. They were my light that shine on this dark cloud that hanged around me – and they just knew what to do to cheer me up. Last year I had a really bad experience and my whole world came tumbling down – my “attack” of BP 1 turned to BP 2 and I was totally lost and out of myself. This time I was admitted to the clinic for 5 weeks and I was in a very bad state of BP 2. However – when I was discharged and went home – who was waiting to see me – my cats!!! Now I have 6 cats and each and everyone of them have their own way to make me feel good and happy. They know when I am down and feel nothing for the world, and they know when I am on top of the world! Each of them have their own personality and if it weren’t for them …… Have a Lovely day!!!

February 6, 2013 at 3:12 pm
(21) Joe says:

I call Booboo my little alarm clock. He is a Shitsu-poodle who doesnt understand the word play. What he does understand though is depression. He wakes me up at nine every day unless i am ill (somehow he can tell). He beats me up with his little paws to make sure I do not stay in bed all day. Again at 3pm he beats me up again to make sure i take him for his walk (we have a backyard but he insists on two walks a day). When I am really depressed (sadly getting deeper and darker) he will want to be in my lap. Many time i have thought of moving on, but i rescued him and made a promise to take care of him.

February 12, 2013 at 6:09 am
(22) noyoki says:

My Boba makes a big difference for me. The way he comes running to the door when I get home, the shoulder cuddles and purring when I’m down. The way he “talks” to me with the cutest noises I’ve ever heard from a cat. When I tell him now, he makes this pathetic little “please?” sounding meow, LOL! He HAS to have his cuddle time before I go to bed, and usually ends up sleeping next to my head with my arm around him. He curls up purring, puts his head in my hand, heaves a big sigh, and goes to sleep. He trusts me, and doesn’t notice my moods at all, except to get more cuddley. Sweetest cat I’ve ever had…

February 12, 2013 at 8:07 pm
(23) Carole says:

I lost my 12 year old papillon, Gypsy Feb. 18th of last year. It took a while before I felt ready to get another papillon but now I have Lacey, the most affectionate dog I have ever had. She and Abra, my 11 year old yorkie, get along okay but Abra is boss. When the dogs are not here my house feels empty and hollow. They fill the house with life.

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