Thursday, June 9, 2016

Pet Therapy for Mental Health

I find that a lot of aspies I know (including myself) own pets, and they seem to benefit from them (I know I love my dog!). Pets can offer unconditional, non-judgemental love, not caring whether you have a disbility or differences.

The following are stories about two aspies and their pets. I uploaded a video so you can see some footage of them, but their full stories are below.

Katie and Her Dogs, Molly and Max:
KT Molly
"Molly was everything to me. She was by my side when no one else would or could be. She stayed with me at night when I was alone and afraid of everything. When I could not sleep because of self-deprecating thoughts or nightmares she stayed by me and let me hug her till they went away. She never made me feel like I was stupid or dumb or pointless or worthless. She never told me who I was supposed to be, just that I wasn't a bad person. She never judged me or told me that wanting to hide was a bad thing. She stood by me and helped me feel strong when everything else said I wasn't. She never complained when I would hug her for hours on end. She was smart and loyal and loving. This is why she is one of the best things to ever happen to me, and this is why my boyfriend is now the best thing to ever happen to me. I love them both."
~ Katie McKellar

"Molly was adopted from Anderson Animal Shelter when Katie was 10. She was a mutt, very smart with a wonderful personality. We visited the shelter many times looking for the right dog. Finally we saw Molly. All the dogs were in their pens. The other dogs were barking like crazy and Molly was sitting quietly looking at us. We took her for a walk to get to know her, she began to respond to basic commands, sit, etc. The kids picked her. Molly had to stay a few days until she could be spayed. We went back to visit Molly everyday until she was ready to come home. Katie and Molly made an instant bond. Molly was 1-1/2 years old at the time.
Some friends owned Max when they decided he wasn't a good fit for their family of young children. Max is a Mini Australian Shepherd, he was born to herd, and he constantly herded their toddlers. Our children were older so he was a better fit for our family. Max was 6 months old. Katie was 19 when we adopted Max.

Molly was Katie's emotional foundation. But, when she got her first hamster we discovered she could focus on studies better if she held the hamster. Holding the hamster while she did schoolwork seemed to eliminate her ADD fidgetiness so she could think and focus."
~ Carol McKellar, Katie's mother

Stephanie and Her Cat, Murphy:

(View the original post on Tumblr)

“This is going to be a pretty emotional story, so brace yourselves if you haven’t heard about my cat Murphy yet.
In 2009, when I was a sophomore in college, I suffered a mental breakdown due to my OCD taking over my brain. I wasn’t able to concentrate on my schoolwork, my social life, or really anything because the OCD thoughts were constantly in my brain and wouldn’t shut off. They were the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing I thought of before I eventually drifted off to sleep after agonizing hours of laying awake and trying to make the thoughts stop.

The thoughts were so relentless that my brain even suggested that the only way out was to die. I didn’t want to commit suicide and the fact that my brain even thought that in the first place terrified me, so I started getting help from one of the campus psychologists. She told me that I definitely did have OCD and began seeing me weekly, but I was still struggling mightily - even two of my professors that semester noticed that I was off and asked me about it. (To this day, their words mean a lot to me - it’s so nice to know when your teachers care.)
And then I found a cat.

A friend of my future roommate and I had been walking back to his dorm with one of his roommates when they’d heard a kitten crying. Some other people in the building had attempted to coax him out with a can of tuna, but he refused to budge. My future roomie and I sprang into action and went over to help. I used to volunteer in the cat ward of a local non-kill animal shelter, so I instructed the others to nudge the kitten out from the back into my arms. They did so, and I picked him up and wrapped him up in my jacket.

He didn’t shut up. (That’s him and me.)

After a while, he settled in and fell asleep in my room. I then attempted to bring him to the animal shelter near my college, but it was closed on Tuesdays. It was fate, so I named him after my current favorite player on the Mets, Daniel Murphy, and he stayed in my room for the week until my parents came out and picked him up.

We practiced eating dry food - he was only six weeks old or so when I found him and hadn’t been weaned when he was separated from his mother. We cuddled and played and learned how to use the litter box like an adult and were generally only separated when I went to class. It gave me a purpose again - I had someone to take care of and worry about, someone who unconditionally loved me back.

It’s been almost four and a half years since my mental breakdown now. Murphy still lives with me and we adore each other’s company - he cuddles with me at night, follows me around the house, and chirps at me when he wants my attention.

He never stopped talking.

This cat indisputably saved my life. He’s the reason I’m writing this answer for you to read right now. He’s the reason I graduated on time and am now in graduate school. He’s the reason I’m still breathing. I owe him absolutely everything. He’s the most incredible cat I’ve ever had the fortune to meet, and he means the world to me.

I may have saved his life that night by bringing him into my dorm room wrapped up in my jacket, but he definitely saved me, too.”
~ Stephanie Dioro

Looking into animal therapy or Emotional Support Animals? Resources below:

The Health Benefits of Dogs (and Cats):

Pets for Depression and Health:

Benefits of Pet Therapy:

What is a Service Animal?
"Service animals are dogs (and in some cases, miniature horses) trained to perform major life tasks to assist people with physical or severe psychiatric impairments/disabilities. Service animals are sometimes referred to as assistance animals, assist animals, support animals, or helper animals depending on the country and the animal's function."
- NSAR (National Service Animal Registry) Website
More info on Service Animals:

Register a Service Dog:

What is a Therapy Animal?
"The primary purpose of a therapy animal is to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with learning difficulties."
- NSAR (National Service Animal Registry) Website

More info on Therapy Animals:

Register a Therapy Animal to help others:

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?
Animal assisted therapy (AAT) uses trained animals to enhance an individual's physical, emotional and social well-being
- American Humane Association
More info on AAT:

What Is An Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?
"An emotional support animal (ESA) is a person's pet that has been prescribed by a person's licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist (any licensed mental health professional). The animal is part of the treatment program for this person and is designed to bring comfort and minimize the negative symptoms of the person's emotional/psychological disability."
- NSAR (National Service Animal Registry) Website
More info on ESA's:

Do you qualify for an ESA?:
Register an ESA:
Alternate ESA registration: 


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