I am quite aware that people secretly think I'm a 'crazy guinea pig/rabbit lady' and if there's any bunny or piggy memes on Facebook or Instagram, I know who's going to get tagged in them! Like many of you out there, my pets are family to me.
Ever since I was tiny, there's always been a pet of some kind on the house - guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, hamsters, chicken, ducks, fish - even had a pony as a kid but obviously, that didn't live in the house! Before you think it, no I haven't/don't live on a farm either!
Aside from all the wonderful aspects of their personalities and the hilarious things they do, my pets are a way of helping manage my mental health. Knowing that there is a small creature that is completely reliant upon you to get up every day and ensure its basic needs are met, is a great way to keep yourself motivated and on track. The companionship and unconditional love you get from a pet is also invaluable; they don't care about stupid little things like you haven't washed your hair in a week, they just want to be with you and near you. The dog is always happy to see you come through the front door every day and greets you like a long lost friend would do. The cat is happy to spend hours curled up on the sofa watching trashy Netflix shows with you. The bunny is happy to hop round your feet in the garden.
We are a nation of pet fanatics and it's hardly surprising when you consider how much they enrich our lives. Just sitting and stroking a pet can help reduce the release of stress-related hormones and makes you feel calmer and more at ease. Talking to your pet and interacting with it can also ease the feelings of loneliness for people who are on their own, particularly beneficial for the elderly in our community who are living alone.
Walking the dog is a great way to get more exercise into your daily routine and it helps you to socialise. Dog walkers are amongst the friendliest people I know; we will stop and chat to each other and just as the dogs interact, so do their humans!
I went to see the film Alpha last night. It's a beautiful story about the domestication of wolves and it really demonstrates that bond between humans and dogs. The film is about a young boy left for dead by his tribe and his connection with a wounded and abandoned wolf. By caring for the wolf and nursing it back to health, he too, becomes stronger and is able to regain the feelings of companionship and family that he has lost. The wolf in turn helps him to hunt and to protect him. They both put themselves on the line for the other,and even when given the choice of returning to its old pack, the wolf continues to protect and nurture the boy - its new 'pack'.
I have read articles about children who are struggling to read who, after spending time reading aloud to a dog, have become bother better readers and more confident in day to day life. There are also numerous organisations who use pet assisted therapy to help, amongst others, the elderly (I partially like the idea of chickens in care homes), people with PTSD, those suffering from depression and anxiety, and children and adolescents with autism.
It doesn't really matter what the animal is either. According to this 2006 study, just listening to 5 crickets in a cage for 8 weeks helped a control group of elderly people become less depressed.
So next time you're feeling down or in need of some time out, why not just spend some quality time with your pet. They'll appreciate it as much as you do.