When I became ill at 16, I found it difficult to socialise and sought companionship with a dog. Dogs have become an important part of my life, giving me something to occupy my time and care for, distracting me from my life with mental ill health. I may have felt segregated and not fully included in the communities I have lived, but the dog always saw me as a person who they recognise as their pack leader!
Initially my interest in dogs started when my friend asked me to walk his dog while he was away. This quickly progressed to owning my first dog. They are such a pleasure to be around, and have opened a few doors to social opportunities and experiences. Although, it doesn't always go according to plan, which mirrors life, but focusing on the happy moments has helped me manage the disappointing setbacks.
In my early 30's, I weighed 16 stone, but getting out walking with the dogs helped me eventually lose 5 stone, which has been a massive positive for my self-esteem and fight for a positive outcome in my mental wellness. I now cycle quite a lot with my friend, who has been a rock in my life and great support.
I also showed a dog for a short while and, at that time, I’m not sure who was more nervous, me or if I was making the dog nervous. Although, I think my dogs came out shaking in sympathy, maybe to deflect attention????. However anxious we were, we got through and kept going back in the hope we would win a bit of metal; we normally just sweated buckets and were the first to leave……which was like winning best in show, it was such a relief! I also went twice to Crufts, without the dogs, just to watch. I really enjoyed the experience. I think if I actually had to show a dog, my stress bucket would have overflowed.
It's always upsetting to lose a friend / dog, but my biggest loss was losing Freya (my last dog) in October. She was a Boxer / Staffordshire Terrier cross. She was such a fantastic, loyal, trustworthy, a proud friend to walk by my side. She was a dominant type dog when let off the lead, always leading the other dogs running in her company. A characteristic I really admired, was that she did not start fights with other dogs, but if challenged rose quite efficiently to the situation. I admire that quality because I like to think that represents my life! I try to face life's challenges and do the right thing, remaining strong even in fear. I thought I'd never get another dog, after being so upset when she passed away after a short illness with cancer at the age of just five years, but, in March, I will be getting a new puppy. Paddy will be a new start and I hope Freya will be guiding us as we go through our lives together.
Dogs are very similar to humans, we get what we put into their lives and we are rewarded with love, loyalty and friendship. If a dog is treated badly, they react like a human would react, by they learning to fight or become withdrawn.
I like to think I understand dogs and they understand where they stand with me, and what I expect from them. It only becomes complicated if complications are created....always keep it simple...always try to do the right thing...!
Have (or do) you used animals to improve your own mental health? If you have, please let us know all about it in the comments below.
A huge thank-you to Peter for sharing his 'tail' (see what we did there) ;-). You can follow Peter on Twitter, where he's @peterbrgss37