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The Role of Pets in Addiction Recovery

July 21st, 2020

We pride ourselves in having the Windmill Wellness grounds be dog friendly. Our furry friends can do so much for us during recovery: they provide emotional support, keeps us busy, and allows for something to rely on us (and responsibility is great!). We wrote about man’s best friend in a blog post a long time ago, but this time we want to shine the limelight on the role of all pets during tough times like addiction recovery. If you’re worried about your personal recovery taking over your ability to care for your beloved pet, let us frame how your pet can help instead of hurt.

The Therapeutic Effect of Animals

There’s a reason why those of us who enjoy animals have a hard time putting into words why we enjoy having them around so much. Since the 1960s, studies have slowly developed our understanding of why pets make us happy. When we pet our cats or dogs, we enjoy more than just a physical sensation of our hand making contact with them. We experience both emotional and psychological fireworks when we show love to our furry friends.

Cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, whatever your choice of pet: they represent a non-judgmental yet somehow understanding neutral party. Just being around pets helps many of us open up a bit, it makes us feel more vulnerable. 

What They Can Do For Those in Recovery

Pets are a responsibility. That’s something you’ve probably heard plenty of times before. Most often, that word is used to imply the hard part about owning a pet: the fact that they will depend on you. But what if that was actually one of the best parts of pet ownership? People have a need to feel needed. Responsibility from a pet or otherwise gives us another reason to keep pushing for our personal growth. 

The responsibility of ownership contributes to our daily schedule. In the early stages of recovery, particularly when downtime can mean more stress than relaxation, having a routine is a great way to occupy the mind. If you are looking to fill your time with a highly personable and fulfilling activity, a pet can certainly take up a fair amount of your day. Instead of crashing at a friend’s place, you’ll have a reason at the beginning of the evening to get home that night. It can help you stay in check.

You have a lot to focus on when you are in recovery. Primarily, your thoughts will likely be mostly directed on yourself (justifiably so!). When any pet enters the picture, you’re opening up an avenue of focus and responsibility and allowing your brain to think outside of itself. So long as you have the mental resources to occasionally direct energy towards something else, taking care of an animal is almost therapeutic. You are sustaining and raising a life, which to many is a very enriching process.

This is particularly true when it comes to dog ownership, but all pets that live outside of a tank or cage encourage a varying level of exercise as well. We’ve spoken a lot about how productive exercise is for the brain plenty of times before, so we’ll spare you the specific details. But in case you haven’t before, we’ll summarize: exercise can be life-changing. You can take your dog for a walk, play with your cat around the house when they’re riled up, or get creative and accompany your rabbit to a tour of the backyard (fence permitting). 

Alternative Options

Though we advocate for pet ownership whenever it becomes possible for someone, not everyone may believe themselves ready to take care of another life. If someone doesn’t think they are ready yet, they are probably right to choose not to get a pet involved. The good news for those on the fence is there are alternative options available if you have the time and love for animals to spare.

Any medium-sized town or city has a shelter that probably could use the help! Shelter work is undoubtedly pretty hard, but a significant benefit of volunteering is that you can control how much or how little you help out. It may be exhausting to spend long periods of time around so many animals. However, if you’re an animal lover, chances are you will still find the work rewarding. Or at the very least, your schedule will be booked and you’ll make it through another day. Make sure you give it enough time! Stress can be positive if you at least see your time as well spent (in healthy doses).

In Conclusion

For the right person, having an animal to take care of can be a life-changing (or even saving) experience. Pets often equate to hard work and responsibilities that can help you direct urges you’re trying to fight elsewhere. Pets inevitably lead to a more social lifestyle (whether with your pet themselves or with other pet owners) and can open up doorways you didn’t even know were present if you become invested.

At Windmill Wellness, the space we are fortunate enough to have allows us to be dog friendly! We know addiction recovery is unique and challenging, especially when you have to leave your best friend behind to find a space to be safe. So don’t leave your best pup behind! Reach out to us, and let’s find out how we can help.