Posted by Rachel Mallory

The French writer Colette wrote a great deal about her mother, and the love that both women had for animals. One of her books is titled “Earthly Paradise,” and contains a story in which her mother is bed-ridden due to illness. Despite her own frustrations with having to stay in bed, she points out that her cat, who gets to share the bed, is finding the situation an earthly paradise. It’s not explicitly stated, but of course Colette’s mother too must have had a great deal of comfort from the closeness of her pet when she felt unwell and helpless.

It’s a lovely story, and a great reminder of the close connection between people and their pets. Animals can be a source of unconditional love, and of silliness and fun. They provide both stimulation and relaxation. Their care also requires structure and, in the case of dogs in particular, some level of physical activity and social interaction. All of these things are known to help with improving and maintaining mental health.

That’s not to say, of course, that everyone should have pets. Some people just don’t like animals or don’t want to have a pet, for a variety of reasons, and there is nothing wrong with that. Pets are expensive, in terms of both time and money. They often live for a long time! If you travel frequently, or have heavy time commitments outside of the home, many pets will not be suitable. There is the ever-present possibility of heavy vet bills if your animal is injured or becomes sick. Some animals require training: a dog with no manners is not just difficult, but can be dangerous. A noisy animal probably can’t be kept in an apartment, and even a fish-tank might be prohibited by a landlord because of the risk of water damage.

But, if you like animals, and you can afford a pet and have time for one, they can be wonderful. Many clients talk about their pets as sources of comfort in difficult times. Try volunteering, too: the Go Volunteer website is a great place to find opportunities to work with animals, among many other options. At least consider the benefits of pets and, if having an animal is not for you, think about ways to improve the structure, activity levels, connectedness and love in your own life.