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Is a pet help a help or hindrance?

Today we had a visit from the lovely Em Birch, Animal behaviourist.
Our listener question was “are pets good for mental health”? we know theyare, to hear Ems more detailed answer you will have to listen in to the podcast.

Em did talk about how dogs, in particular, need to be matched to the owner. This sounds like common sense, but something we don’t always think of, so ifyou are getting a dog or any other kind of pet, consider their size, their temperament and how much walking they might need. I have two dogs in my household of similar size, although one of them needs lots more walking than the other one. If the dog matches you are your household, they willintegrate lovely. If we don’t match correctly not only will the new additionnot be good for mental health, chances are they will be a cause of much higher stress and possible anxiety.

Em shares a lovely story of how she fell in love with animals and when she got her first dog.

We also talk about the loss of a pet and how tragic this can be for people. Ifind this area often overlooked and I’m never quite sure why? We have pets for a long time, dogs and cats can be around for up to and beyond 15 years.They are loyal and silent company, they don’t argue back and for the mostpart, are not demanding. They can help us form relationships, for some this might be the only healthy relationship a person has. So, when we come to lose a pet, it can leave a massive hole in a household.

The level of attachment to a pet is dependent on the owner and the owner’sstyle of attachment. We attach ourselves to many things, humans, jewellery, jobs, pets, almost anything really. The attachment style we have is formed in childhood (no surprise there then). It comes from, or we learn it via our first main attachment, quite often but not always this is too our primary career, the first person that cared for us. Again, quite often this is mum and/or dad, but not always. We learn different ways of attachment depending on the circumstances of that first situation.

If I use myself as an example here: my primary carer was my mum, dad was around but working. Mum cared for me up until I was 3 months old when I was quite ill, taken into hospital and almost died. I was in hospital for around three months. So, for the first three months of my life I was cared for and heldby my mum, I’m safe and comfortable. Then at three months old I’mwhipped away and put in hospital, not a bad thing, as I was really ill. Wemight think at three months old I’m unable to react to this, not so.

From day one of our lives on earth we have an operating system in place that is programmed to keep us safe and alive. So, whilst with mum I’m safe, but then when I’m taken away, less safe and my behaviours start to form. As

I’m less safe I’m more alert to danger. This was the beginning of what we callan ambivalent attachment style. It’s of no real benefit for you to know thedetail of this style, only that moving forward in life and forming relationships, itisn’t the healthiest attachment style.

Once we have our attachment style, we can apply this style to anything, including pets. When we lose a pet, it can hurt that nothing else, so pleasedon’t underestimate that pain, it’s okay to feel it and own it.

Animals are amazing, can be and are used in therapy sometimes. I myself have used my little dog to help calm a client:
My little dog is as chilled as they come, she really is at her happiest whenhaving her belly tickled (who wouldn’t be?) so I know if I bring her Into theroom with a client, she will just lie quietly and be stroked, this in turn helps calm the client down. I feel there are two things at play there: one is distraction, the client is a little distracted so less aware of what they are talking about, the second is, because the little dog is so chilled she will bring with her a chilled energy that the client will feed off, win win.

Em shares a lovely story about a child with a disability and a dog...you knowwhere to find the details of the story.

Did you know that we now have studies that prove that dogs in the workplace are good? By good I mean the studies that have been done,prove productivity will increase and anxiety will decrease. Part of Em’s role isto help place the right dog in the right environment.
We also talk about pets and children, the do’s and don’ts and healthy waysto have both in your world.

We also talk about the similarities between training a dog and children, we talk about pet allergies and we talk about dogs on beds, listen in the hear more about these subjects.

During this podcast I learned how important Ems role is in the world, important because we sometimes need experts to help guide us to the healthiest choices. Much the same as sometimes we need to see other experts likedentists, doctors and therapists. It’s all okay.

Theses podcasts are yours, the listener, please let us know if there is a subject you would like us to cover, or a subject you would like to know more about.

Also please let us know if you or anyone you know would like to be a guest on one of our recordings. We only ask that you have some personal or professional experience in and around mental health.

Listen to Em's story here

Happiness and peace.


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