Over the years our animal companions have been playing a more important part of our lives. Apart from being incredible support companions for those with illnesses, such as seizure detection dogs, or diabetic detection dogs, they also give their human companions much needed emotional support. We often hear how someone who has adopted a rescue saying the animal rescued them too.
Dr Guy Fyvie, Hill’s Pet Nutrition nutritional advisor, says: “There’s evidence that pets can reduce stress, anxiety and depression and in some cases even cure it. People with pets are happier, interact more with others and are less likely to visit the doctor.”
Pets can help those with a low self esteem with the unconditional love that they give, and improve their socialising skills, helping their owners to break the ice when it comes to talking or meeting to new people.
With World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) says that ‘pets are increasingly being used to assist patients with mental conditions’.
Lucy Breytenbach, Animal Science Behaviour & Welfare Canine Behaviour Practitioner from Honey’s Garden, agrees. “Any dog with a sensitive disposition and who is in tune with a human’s emotions can be trained to be an emotional support dog. Emotional support dogs respond to changes in their pet parent’s emotional state, such as scratching, nail biting, leg shaking or hair pulling. They may be taught to give cuddles on command and provide emotional comfort. These dogs may be trained to provide comfort to many people and be taken to retirement homes, hospice and children’s homes, among other places.
“Emotional support dogs provide a new sense of hope to people who may find themselves in a desperate situation. They make life worth living,” concludes Breytenbach.
According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa is ranked as having the eighth highest suicide rate in the world, with approximately 8 000 South Africans taking their own lives each year.