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6 Ways Pets Help Me Through Depression and Anxiety

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My biggest supporters haven’t been my friends or my family. My biggest supporters don’t have two legs, nor can they talk. You see, my biggest supporters throughout my journey have been my pets and all the animals that have come into my life.

Growing up, we always had family pets I could cuddle, and my life revolved around horseback riding. I remember just how therapeutic going to the barn after a tough day would be. I would spend hours there, whether it was just grooming and talking to my pony, riding for hours when I felt like I was flying and nothing could stop me, or just crying into my pony’s mane, I knew she would always listen and never judge me.

I guess that’s how I really knew something was wrong and that my depression and anxiety were getting bad — when I didn’t even have the passion or the energy to go to the barn anymore and when it no longer brought joy to me. Even thought I don’t horseback ride anymore, I still have my dog Riley to comfort me and be there for me. I remember one day saying to my mom that I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have Riley, and her reply was that’s why my parents got her for me. I personally see her as almost my uncertified therapy dog because she has helped me through so much, and I find just being around animals to help me so much.

While pets and animals may not be the right thing for everyone, and some people may not like them, here are just some reasons why pets have played such a powerful part in my life and my healing.

1. Pets are a reason to get out of bed every morning. There are days when I feel like I don’t have the energy or strength to get out of bed, but then I remember Riley and that she is counting and depending on me to be strong.

2. They provide consistency and routine. Even when I was living on my own during school and Riley wasn’t with me all the time, I had a fish, Linus, which believe it or not also helped. With my anxiety, change and not knowing what the day is going to bring is something I struggle with. Having a pet and the routine of getting up, feeding them, etc. is a routine I know will stay consistent each day.

3. They are always happy to see you! Even Linus was happy to see me and despite what some people say, would start swimming in circles when he heard my voice! So even if you had a bad day when it seems like everyone is against you, you can always come home to a pet who is always on your side.

4. When you are having a bad day, you can count on them to curl up with you and binge-watch Netflix, while not arguing with you about it! They are always up for lazy days.

5. They will always listen to you vent and be there when you cry without passing any judgement. In these moments they will also reassure you and let you know they are still there and listening every once in awhile with a small nudge, lick on the hand, etc.

6. They always seem to know when you just need someone to be present yet silent. Riley knows exactly when I need this, and will just come into my room quietly, curl up beside me and rest her head on my lap. Even when I was in Arizona earlier this month, animals I had never met could sense this. I was explaining some of the struggles I have faced to my trip facilitator and one of the domesticated wolves (awesome, right?!) just walked up and placed her head on my lap.

Those are just a few reasons how animals, and my dog Riley in particular, can be so powerful in helping with anything that I am dealing with. I really don’t know what I would do without Riley. She is my protector, my cuddler and most importantly, my best friend.

dog lying down looking at camera
Justine’s dog Riley


Originally published: March 18, 2016
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