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Mental Health

Getting a Dog to Help With My Depression and Anxiety

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

When the pandemic hit, my mental health took quite the blow. I found myself having frequent episodes of depression at the most random times, coupled with bouts of anxiety attacks. One moment I was lying in bed feeling hopeless at the thought of the future, and the next, I was pacing my room, obsessively researching possible steps and the future they would lead me to. It was an emotional rollercoaster that resulted in me hogging the family dog’s attention, whether that be snuggling with him under the sun in the backyard, or by giving him belly rubs.

So it didn’t come as a surprise to my mother when, despite having a family dog, I asked for my own dog to have as an emotional support animal for Christmas. And while I didn’t get my puppy for Christmas, a mere two months later, my aunt, who knew of my wish, came into possession of a Yorkie and gifted her to me.

It was love at first sight with the puppy and I decided to name her Stormi. She has since lived up to her name and proven to be anything unlike what I wanted from an ESA. Like many others when it comes to pets and mental health, I only saw an adorable dog and the unconditional love I would receive and not the responsibilities that came with raising the pup.

Here are some pros and cons you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about getting a pet, especially when the main reason for that decision is driven by your mental health.

Pros:

  • Though I struggle with expressing my emotions, my pup allows for me to loosen up and show love and care, receiving it back in full with her playful nips and kisses.
  • My pup gives me a reason to get out of the house every day, even during those days when I struggle to do anything productive.
  • I find myself having to talk to strangers who want to pet my pup, forcing social interaction, which I usually avoid.
  • My pup wants to be friends with almost every dog she sees, which leads to interesting conversations with other dog owners who have good advice to impart upon me.
  • Stormi has proven herself to be a highly intelligent pup who’s quick to learn. It took a month or so to potty train her. By two months, I no longer took her out to potty every hour or so.

Cons:

  • Dogs need attention!! More than I took into consideration when I first got my pup. I struggled to give my pup the love she needs when I struggled with giving myself attention and love amidst my depressive episodes.
  • Training is a slow process that takes dedication and a routine, something that I found hard to manage with my depression and anxiety. I would go from feeling like a failure and stopping Stormi’s routine, to worrying I wasn’t doing enough and establishing a more rigorous routine on my pup.
  • I ended up spending more money than I thought I would. Stormi needed her shots, which I felt were never ending and more expensive than they probably were. There was also the monthly expense of dog food, as well as the usual treats and toys and doggy bed.

I pride myself on admitting and acknowledging my faults and mistakes, even if only to myself. So I was the first to admit I may have jumped the gun in asking for a dog when I hadn’t taken into account, and was not ready for the responsibilities that came with said dog. I really just thought about what a dog could do for me and my mental health. It was a hard pill to swallow when I came to the realization that my pup was not the cure to my depression and anxiety I was looking for, but rather a living being with needs. And while I wouldn’t trade Stormi for the world, I do wish I had been more prepared when I got her.

So please, before you get a dog, or whatever pet you have your heart set on, make sure you understand that they’re not just a companion but a living responsibility that needs care, love, and attention.

Alexa is a third year English major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her ambitions include being a best-selling author and successful blogger. Interests include: listening to music, exploring, and reading.
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