Mental Health Issues ‘Heal’ With Help from Huntsville Shelter Pet

When it comes to mental health issues, owning a pet can go from ‘cure’ to ‘cure’.

By adopting from an animal shelter, you are giving an animal a second chance at living its best life – and it feels good! But what is often overlooked is the variety of ways that owning a pet can help humans cope with existing mental health issues and even ward off potential and emerging ones.

“It’s actually something we recommend to our clients,” said Wendy Weber, an outpatient adult therapist at WellStone in Huntsville.

According to Human-Animal Bonding Research Institute (HABRI)pets can be wonderful sources of support and relief from anxiety, depression, loneliness, stress, and other mental health issues.

Weber said people with mental health issues often find it difficult to open up because of the stigma surrounding mental health. This is where pets come in, as they provide a non-judgmental sounding board for their owners’ concerns.

“If someone has a pet, they have a confidant,” Weber said. “This pet is someone who will love her unconditionally.”

“When You Need It”

Emily, a former vet tech and zookeeper, was diagnosed with ADHD, depression and anxiety at the age of 37. She does, however, find solace in her pets – two barn cats, 20 hens, a rooster named Frodo, a dog named Carrot, and a parrot named Flora.

Emily, a former vet tech and zookeeper who now lives in Huntsville, has struggled since childhood with poor time management, memory and impulse issues. She always felt an enormous amount of stress in school and in social situations, which would manifest as hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating.

At the age of 37, she was finally diagnosed with ADHD, depression and anxiety. Now, with proper care, medication and the company of two barn cats, 20 chickens, a rooster named Frodo, a dog named Carrot and a parrot named Flora, Emily feels more confident and responsible. of his life.

“I’m a mess without having some kind of creature to love and confide in,” she said. “They really make a huge difference…they just know when you need them.”

Life’s greatest challenges

Some people think having to care for a pet and picking up after it is stressful, but research shows that owning a pet is actually good stress. reducer. HABRI reports that owning a pet is linked to significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure in response to stress. For frontline and emergency response workers, this is especially critical, Weber said.

Two dogs were lying on a red and white shag rug.  The dogs are brown with fluffy tails.  There is a couch in the background.

Eric, who has a stressful job as a fire communications manager, says he loves coming home to his four dogs, two of whom are pictured above. “It doesn’t matter if I’m gone for five minutes or five days, they’re always happy to see me,” he said.

Eric, a communications manager with Huntsville Fire & Rescue (HFR), said the fluctuations of shift work, being on call 24/7 and the challenges of managing an element Essential HFR operations can be very stressful.

“Adjusting to shift work and balancing a ‘normal’ life is quite a challenge,” he said. “When factoring in a stressful job, trying to sleep during the day when you’re supposed to be awake, making friends and loved ones realize you have to sleep odd hours to do your job effectively, trying to stay awake at night knowing how important it is for you to be alert and make split-second decisions – all of this can have mental consequences.

He said one of the best parts of his day is coming home to his four dogs.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m gone for five minutes or five days, they’re always happy to see me,” Eric said. “Knowing that you have four loyal companions, no matter what’s going on in the world, can really help you overcome some of life’s greatest challenges.”

Mood and well-being

Pets not only affect mood and well-being, but they also create positive physiological changes in a person’s body chemistry, such as increasing natural feel-good hormones like oxytocin and contributing a sense of calm, comfort and focus.

Weber said this is one of the ways owning a pet can also reduce negative thoughts and the likelihood of suicidal thoughts.

“I’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past,” said Alex, a southeast Huntsville resident and devoted foster parent for years. “There were times when my cats were the only things that kept me from killing myself.”

Alex lives with depression, ADHD type 1 and rejection sensitive dysphoria. She’s had pets of all kinds throughout her life, and her family includes four humans and eight cats. Alex is also currently raising a litter of five kittens.

“They always seem to know when I’m down and will sit on my lap or snuggle up to me and just purr,” Alex said.

A motivation

Owning and caring for a pet can bring meaning to life and reduce feelings of loneliness. Weber points out that pets can be particularly comforting, as the enforced isolation caused by the pandemic still lingers for some immunocompromised people and the elderly.

And while the benefits of pet ownership are undeniable, the positive effects on animals are lucky enough to leave shelters forever.


“I understand how awful abandonment is, and I do what I can to let animals know it’s not their fault. [that they wound up in less than ideal circumstances]”, said Alex. “I gain a sense of accomplishment, pride and happiness by being a stepping stone for pets on their way to a better situation.”

If you are thinking of making a forever friend through the adoption or placement of a pet, Huntsville Animal Services offers an assortment of animals of all ages in need of a good home. Visit them online or in person at 4950 Triana Blvd. SW.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s suicide prevention page.

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