Perhaps you are wondering why I am talking about pets, after all, I am a therapist not a vet. The answer is simple, many studies have shown that animals, and pets specifically, have very positive impact on mental health, which is certainly an area of concern for me as a therapist.
When deciding for or against a pet, there are few things that need to be considered. It won’t be of much benefit if you are stressed by the work, level of responsibility and inevitable costs. Looking at your budget, not just in terms of buying the pet, but also at how much will it cost you keeping it, can save you lots of troubles later. Think of cost of feeding, bedding, vet bills and any equipment you might need. Calculate in raise in prices and possible sickness. Once the you know your budget, look at any allergies and health conditions in the household to ensure they would not be made worse by the pet or its bedding.
The next thing to consider is time - is someone always at home, or rarely anyone? How much time do you have each day to look after the pet. Do you have someone to look after it when you are away on holiday or can you afford paid services to take care of your pet? Does the pet require training, do you have the skills and time to provide it, or the cash to pay for it?
Is the pet safe for all the household members. This is something to consider specially if you have young children. Although it is lovely to take in a rescued animal, they often have come through traumas and the loveliest creature can be lethal when triggered. Children under five should not be left alone with animals, especially those that have the ability to hurt them or are vulnerable to be hurt by the child. Make sure that the animal has a safe space where it can retreat when it had enough of little hands and that the space is not ever invaded.
Environment is another subject on the list. Are you legally allowed to have that pet? Some species are smuggled here illegally, which carries a huge fine and seizure of the animal. Also most landlords do not allow pets in their contracts, so check before you commit yourself. How much space is optimal for the pet and can you provide it, it certainly seems unfair to make the animal suffer in unsuitable conditions for the fleeting pleasure you might derive from its company. Last but not least, pick a pet you know you will love and adore, one that you want to take care of and spend time with irrespective of how much of the work the kids will do.
The last thing you need, is to feel resentful, when kids being kids, lose interest or forget their responsibilities.
You made your pick and have a pet now. Whatever animal you chose, may it be a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a horse, a bird, a snake, a spider or anything else more or less unusual, carve time to be with them. In order for your mental health to benefit, you must stop, switch off and just be present with them. This might look different with the various animals and it might require different length of time. You can walk you dog, cuddle up your cat, ride your horse, hold your snake, watch your fish etc. as long as you are conscious of those moments, you are present in mind and connected with the animal, you will reap the benefits and so will your children.
Your children might benefit in many ways from growing up with pets. Apart from the obvious benefits of feeling connected, calm and loved, they lear to be responsible, considerate and kind, they grow in confidence, self-worth and gain new skillset and with at least some pets, they get physically active, spend time outside and away from screens.
The secondary benefit is that if you are in a better place mentally, if you your cup is full and you feel at peace, you’ll be a better person, better parent. I know it works for me. Walk in the park is an excellent cure for a short fuse, an essential activity when you have a toddler or two.
Perhaps, you have considered all the above and came to a conclusion that having a pet at home is not an option for your family for whatever reason. You and your children can still benefit from the presence of animals though. You can walk someone else’s dog, you can pet sit, you can visit children’s zoos, farms, ZOO, safari, rescue centres, riding clubs or simply take a walk in your local park, field or wood and just pay attention. If there is a rotten tree, there’ll be myriad of insects, where there are trees, there will be birds, where there are flowers, there’ll be bees and butterflies, squirrels are just everywhere nowadays, duck ponds can keep a little one busy for a while. Maybe you are locked in a concrete jungle, but you can create your little haven on your balcony or outside your windows. Plant some colourful flowers and wild strawberries, these will attract bees, bumble bees and butterflies. You could also put out a bird feeder, so you can watch the little city dwellers to come to your windows.
No matter what your circumstance and no matter where you are, you can always access a bit of nature. Think of nature as the mains socket, it is a source of limitless energy for you, all you need to do is to slow down, relax and plug in to recharge. Nature and animals in particular have this amazing calming and healing effect on our stressed and tired minds and souls.