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Puppy Happy Fun Girl
Charlotte Reader / Her Campus
Mental Health

Pets and Their Benefits to our Mental Health

As a residence student my contact with animals, especially domesticated ones, has become limited (besides the occasional dog on a leash or stray cat passing me by on the street). This makes greeting and spending time with my household’s dog during holiday times special and made me realize the healing power animals possess. Although it isn’t always possible for students to be around animals as much as we would like, there are always alternative ways to meet up with local furry friends, help them and reap the physical and mental benefits of doing so. The benefits themselves can be enough to make you consider a pet or two in your own life.

This piece would have originally started out as a love letter to my dog, with me telling her how grateful I am to have had her as a companion. Going home after spending a third of your year away from family can be a jarring experience. Entering the second semester helped me realize that the emotional support this animal provided in that short amount of time aided me more than I had thought and made me try to figure out ways I could meet some furry friends while away from home.

According to helpguide.org, owning or caring for a pet will encourage you to make important lifestyle changes that improves your mental and physical health. Pets increase your amount of daily or weekly exercise through the need for frequent walks and other physical stimulation. Through just providing companionship, they reduce anxiety as well as provide sensory stress relief, meaning you can lower your blood pressure by simply petting a dog or a cat. Many dogs are also well-trained in handling situations of crisis and providing emotional support for people with serious mental health conditions. While they can pick up on your emotions and attempt to lift your mood, trained dogs go one step further by being able to read certain physical signs of sadness, anger or frustration and act accordingly to cheer you up or calm you down.

When deciding to adopt a pet there are many important factors to consider. While pets like dogs and cats provide the most emotional and mental support, they are also the most expensive and will probably need the most care compared to other animals. If you decide to take the adoption route, its best to choose a pet that works with your environment and your schedule, such as smaller pets like birds and guinea pigs that are slightly less maintenance while providing their own form of companionship.

For students, such as myself who can’t get a pet of their own, there are pet rental programs which allow you to rent a furry friend for the day, take them for walks or play with them at designated parks or beaches. Organizations such as Oscars Arc, SPCA and TEARS are always open for volunteers to work with and provide care to animals in shelters and prep them for fostering or adoption.

Through helping, caring, and possibly providing a home for these animals we can also help reduce our own anxiety and stress- all while maintaining a healthy mind and body while continuing our studies.

Jasmine is a second year student at the University of Cape Town, majoring in English and film studies. Writing and reading are her two greatest passions, next to geeking out about the newest Netflix series and listening to chill lo-fi beats.
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