How 5 Pet Parents’ Lives Had a Glow-Up After They Got Their Pets
Turns out finding community isn’t so hard when you’ve got a cute pal to help get you out of the house.
Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)
I don’t know how many times I’ve sobbed into my dog’s fur. It’s not a frequent occurrence, by any means. It’s an embarrassingly melodramatic thing to do, first of all. And while she’s never pulled away when I do it, I don’t think she’s exactly thrilled about the situation when it comes up. But in the course of our nearly six years together, there have been a handful of occasions (three to four, I’d say) when — in the wake of a breakup, a stressful move, or just an average, bad day — burying my sad, wet face into Cleo’s soft, warm neck for a couple of minutes is the only cure.
Besides that, she supports my wellbeing in a million other ways. Her walks force me to get out of the house at least three times a day; her dog park visits have helped me gain a variety of friends and acquaintances (and nemeses). And her sweet tail-chasing makes me laugh every single time she does it.
I’m far from the only person to benefit from sharing their life with an animal. A 2019 report from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute argued there was a strong link between having a companion animal, and “increased social support, reduced loneliness, and decreased social isolation.” The benefits are especially important now, given that earlier this month, the U.S surgeon general declared loneliness a public health crisis.
On the heels of Mental Health Awareness Month (which should be all year long, frankly), The Wildest asked people how their pets have helped them with their mental health and wellbeing and helped them connect with other people — a scary concept following years of a pandemic and isolation.
Devon Noehring, 31
“I have a lot of social anxiety, so I really wanted to get a dog I could take everywhere with me. Having my dog, Willo, by my side allowed me to focus on her and the joy she brought other people, rather than myself and my anxieties. I bring her to parties and events. I travel with her, and I even used to bring her to work.
She helped me get out of my shell and has even helped me make new friends and talk to people I wouldn’t normally talk to. I never used to go out and do things alone, and suddenly, with Willo, I was taking her places by myself all the time. I guess I’m technically not alone when I have Willo. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her. Having a dog has improved my mental health so much!”
Hannah Cohen, 32
“I was fortunate enough to be photographing two veterinarians who were fostering a litter of kittens about nine years ago. I fell in love with them and was lucky enough to be gifted two angel cat sisters, Winnie and Lola, who are with me now.
They’ve been my best friends, guardian angels, and teachers. As a somatic healer, and someone who has their own anxiety and trauma and all the fun layers of being human, my experience with them has been an amazing gift. Not only do they love to support my clients and patients with love, care, and sweetness, but they’re always on top of my stomach or chest and creating so much more space for coziness, slowness, and healing.
I’ve met so many other cat people and dog people through my own love of these little friends, and half of the folks I photograph weddings for are amazing animal people. I think we just share a commonality of loving and celebrating how much our animal friends have taught us.”
Burcu Griffin, 44
“My cat, Toffee, is my best friend, my emotional support animal, my guardian angel. In my darkest times, Toffee was by my side. Night after night, he curled up on my pillow as I cried myself to sleep. His presence brought comfort and reassurance, reminding me that I was not alone. Toffee never left my side, following me from room to room.
Did he know that his presence made me feel safe and loved? Did he know my love for him would mean that I would keep going because I couldn’t leave him behind? Did he want to show me he needed me as much as I needed him? Whatever it is that he was trying to communicate with me, I hope he knows he saved me. I will be forever grateful for Toffee.”
Victoria Suart, 38
“I am definitely an introvert and have found it difficult as I got older to make new friends. In 2018, my partner and I moved to a new town, and while it’s a beautiful place and exactly what we want from a lifestyle perspective, we struggled to make friends and feel part of the community. Then 2020 rolled around, and due to COVID, we were both working from home and we decided we finally had the time to add a dog to the family. All of a sudden, life changed for us. We got stopped everywhere we went, people wanted to pet the dog or talk to us about dogs. We finally met all our neighbors, we met people at the dog park, and a lot of these people have become very close friends to us now. All because of having a dog. It gave us a reason to get outside, something to connect with other people about, and helped us find a sense of community.
On top of that, there’s the social media side of things. Through sharing Farley’s life on social media, I have found so many other like-minded people: people who are obsessed with their dogs, who love to hike and camp, and who share the same passions for creating content. Something about doing all this through a dog-focused social media account has made it feel so safe and easy to connect to other people. I have made some great friends through social media.”
Paola Glait, 37
“As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, my pets have been invaluable to me and my mental health. There were some really bad days when I was in bed all day, and the only thing that really got me out was the fact that my pets depended on me. I always had them near me, usually within reach, which really helped ground me and keep me moving forward day by day. It really helped to push out the ‘fog’ that depression tends to give me, having that routine and something to do instead of staying stagnant.
It truly helps my anxiety that I know my pets — especially my dogs — do not judge me and love to be with me. I think this is one of the many reasons pets really help me manage my mental health. While I sometimes still fall into my mind or that fog, I know they are there and need me, and it’s important to me that they are happy and safe.”
Happy news: Pups can help support your (or your kid’s) everyday needs.
Find out how here, including what the heck those acronyms mean.
Dr. Annie Bowes, a veterinarian on the spectrum, explains: “Dogs sense the world like we do, and don’t judge us.”
“She was my lockdown companion, but I had to learn to slowly navigate my fears and anxiety without her as my constant companion.”
Boundaries, right? But if they end up sleeping in bed, that’s cool, too.
Madeleine Aggeler is a freelance journalist and copywriter in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was a writer at New York magazine’s The Cut. She lives with her dog, Cleo, who works primarily as a foot warmer.