Power of Paws: Pets Can be Magic for our Mental Health

Power of Paws: Pets Can be Magic for our Mental Health

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 If the pandemic proved one thing, it’s what many pet lovers have known for a long time: Furry friends help us feel better, both mentally and physically.

That’s why it’s no surprise that getting a pandemic puppy (or kitty) became a popular thing to do in 2020 with stay-at-home orders isolating people from their social networks. According to a Rover.com survey, one-third of people in the U.S. welcomed a cat or dog into their life between March and October.

And as it turns out, sharing a home with a pet was a buffer against psychological stress during the pandemic, according to a study from the University of York and the University of Lincoln. Nine out of 10 respondents said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown.

Therapy dog owners, like Bay Village resident and Lakewood City Schools teacher Patti Cramer, are not surprised by these statistics. She sees an animal’s ability to offer comfort and support all the time in her first-grade classroom. About once a week, her 10-year-old golden retriever, Stan, accompanies her to Horace Mann Elementary School.

Patti Cramer and her son, Simon, of Bay Village, pose with their certified therapy dog, Stan. PHOTO SUBMITTED BY Patti Cramer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Animals automatically calm kids,” Cramer says, noting the rule in her classroom is not to approach Stan, but you can pet him if he comes to you. “They know if they’re calm, he’s going to come over to them. If they’re loud and rambunctious, he will avoid them. So the whole classroom is quieter and calmer on the days he’s there.”

Stan is certified as a therapy dog from Therapy Dogs International, meaning he was evaluated for obedience and having a sound temperament around children and people with service equipment, like wheelchairs and walkers. Working with their handlers, typically their owners, therapy dogs volunteer in schools, hospitals and other institutions to provide comfort, affection and love. 

A lifelong dog lover, Cramer had another dog and a toddler when she adopted Stan as a puppy in 2012. It was an inopportune time to get a new dog, she recalls. 

“I had a bad attitude about it,” Cramer says. “I needed him to be useful to me in some way. That’s why I looked into the therapy dog situation.”

She knew a dog trainer who had mentioned there are never enough certified therapy dogs, so Cramer decided to train Stan with her guidance. Two months later, Stan was certified. He’s been accompanying her in the classroom ever since.

In addition to providing a calming effect in the classroom, Stan supports students who are struggling with reading. 

“Kids who are hesitant readers are not hesitant with a dog,” Cramer says. “He’s not judging them; he’s not going to give them any feedback whatsoever. It’s a nonthreatening way for them to practice their reading.”

He also has helped students with disabilities or students who are having a bad day cope with their emotions.

“The sensory aspect of petting him and interacting with him calms them,” she says. “He’s been used so many times to stop a meltdown or to reset kids. If they’re in a bad spiral, spending a couple minutes sitting near him will distract them enough that they can get past whatever set them off in the first place. Many times, it’s been like magic.”

Pandemic Pet Facts:

 The top two reasons people adopted a cat or dog in the last year are for emotional support and happiness, and because they needed something positive in their life.

More than 80 % of people said it made working from home and being at home during the pandemic more enjoyable.

93% of people said their “pandemic pet” improved their mental and/or physical well-being in the last year.

Source: Rover survey of 1,076 U.S.-based pet owners via Pollfish in March 2021

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