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How becoming a pet-owner improved my mental health
Resources: Mental Health, Self-care, For Myself, Wellbeing, Support, Youth Talk
Having a pet is a great source of joy and it can also do wonders to our mental health.
How becoming a pet-owner improved my mental health

Welcome to our Youth Talk Blog, a section dedicated to youth lived-experiences with mental health and wellbeing, with weekly blog posts from diverse young people’s perspectives. This is a positive, fun and resourceful space, showcasing young people thriving and connecting with healthful activities, resources and support. This post was written by Elle, our Community Education Volunteer, who is a 23-year-old Communications graduate.

Being a pet owner is a big responsibility, and I wasn’t prepared for just how much of an impact adopting a cat would have on my life. When we think of owning a pet, we think of the common joys such as the cuddles, playtime, or giving a rescued animal a good life. But we also don’t consider the extent of emotional wealth that comes with their companionship.

I have always been a family-oriented person, so homesickness is a frequent and familiar feeling for me. I had always wanted a pet of my very own, and the thought of adopting a cat eased that homesickness. I grew up on a farm and was used to being around animals, but there’s nothing quite like forming a bond with one you’ve made a personal commitment to giving the best possible life. So, two years ago I adopted my cat, Beau, from the SPCA. Very quickly, he became more than just a pet; he became one of the biggest supporters of my well-being.

When we are not doing well mentally, we often neglect basic daily routines that help to keep our emotions and energy regulated. Simple things like waking up at a reasonable time, staying active and eating food that is nourishing can seem like impossible tasks. However, if you own a pet, you cannot neglect what is vital to their daily routine, and it’s a compelling instigator for pushing through emotional and physical fatigue. I now have a strong motivator for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, because to take care of my cat, I also need to take care of myself. On days where I find it difficult to get out of bed, I have a hungry cat nudging at my face, reminding me that I must get up and start the day for both of us. While I knew he would be the perfect addition to my life when I adopted him, I never expected him to change my life so much. He is one of the main reasons that I am now the healthiest I’ve been since high school, mentally and physically. 

Animals are also incredibly intuitive. Emotional support animals have been known to have an awareness of human emotions despite not being able to verbally communicate, achieving this through reading facial expressions and listening to the tone of peoples’ voices. Many of my pet-owner friends have shared that when they’re sad or tearful, their pets are extra affectionate and won’t leave their side. I am fortunate enough to have the same experience, because when I adopted my cat, I gained a companion with a lot of love to give. The isolation of lockdown was difficult, but Beau made it easier to cope, because it was a great feeling seeing just how happy he was to have me at home with him every day. Sometimes I forget that he enjoys my company just as much as I enjoy his, and it’s always a pleasant reminder that despite being so far away from my family, I always have someone who loves me, with me.  

If you are a fellow pet-owner, I’m sure that this resonates with you. Animals aren’t perfect, much like us, they have their moments of bad behaviour or a need for independence which makes them distant at times. But they’re also dedicated and loyal creatures who deserve as much love back as they give to us. 

Anxiety New Zealand has a furry mascot who has been a full-time resident at the clinic for over five years and is an instant friend to anyone who enters. Smokey is a cat who had a troubled beginning, arriving at the charity homeless, injured, and afraid. A little over two years later, Smokey became the sweet boy he is today, helping people feel safe and at ease during therapy or support groups. He loves food and pats, as well as comforting people who arrive feeling anxious. He has been a wonderful addition to the Anxiety New Zealand family, and beloved by those who have experienced his support first-hand.