Dear Lovers of Aminals,
I have recently come across some disturbing information. Apparently there are people in the world who believe that people with a condition affecting their mental health should not be owners of pets.
What logic is behind this notion? Well, the logic is that while pets can provide companionship and love in the short term, they inevitably die, and their owners (remember, the mentally ill owners) will be so stressed from bereavement that a relapse is likely to occur.
To be honest, I found this logic a little strange. Number one, the logic denies the natural order of life: All things will die.
At some point a person living with a mental health condition (MHC) will have to confront the concept of death...
People age. Accidents happen. Life happens.
No one can be protected from what is inevitable.
And so I think of pets in the same way that I'm sure most parents do when they find themselves dealing with the similar issues for their bereavement-naive children; pets are a primer to help all of us deal with the concept of loss.
Wait! Don't get me wrong... I don't think that the only goal of a pet is to help people gain experience with bereavement.
Secondly, from experience as a pet-owner, animal lover, and as a person with an MHC, pets provide a lifetime of love, companionship, and joy to their owner. For some reason, in times of severe distress, when I found myself overwhelmed and unable to reach out to people, I was able to reach out to my pets. The pets in my life have always been there to soothe me, distract me, and entertain me whenever I needed it most. In exchange for their companionship and attention, I gave them good food, clean water, and a constant supply of belly rubs. Not a bad deal, I think, for either me or my pets.
When my first pet died, I had been living with my diagnosis for about 7 years. Did the loss of my furry friend cause me to relapse? No. She was sick. Her being unwell was very stressful for me, and it gave me comfort to know that she was no longer suffering. Did I cry? Yes. And did I learn something from that experience? Yes. I learned that it is okay to cry, and to cry hard, when you are very sad. I also learned that veterinarians are nice to sad people who have just lost their pets. And so are most other strangers you meet while you are a young girl, on your way home from the vet, crying your eyes out about the loss of your little buddy.
I also learned that the hole that your loved one left behind in death can be filled with other things over the course of time.
More than animals teaching about bereavement, they teach us about relationships and care, and they show us what unconditional love *really* looks like.
So the next time anyone wants to argue that pets cause too much stress for people with an MHC, you need to explain that the rewards are worth the loss - a loss that we all know is inevitable at the end of the day.