Minding Pet Welfare of Shelter Animals and Recovery - Worldwide

Shelter animals and people in recovery from addiction have a lot in common.

Written and submitted by Dale Vernor. Dale is an advocate for animal rights, and a dog owner. Dale earned his Bachelor's Degree in Communication and has been working in drug rehab since graduating. Dale believes in helping those in need whether it be humans or animals alike.

Not to anthropomorphize the one or dehumanize the other, but the situation of pets in shelters is typical of the struggles faced by people who are recovering from substance addiction.

For one thing, both face homelessness. Pets in shelters have lost their homes. Their time in a shelter is limited. Either they get the help they badly need or they end up euthanized.

Likewise, addiction and homelessness are closely linked with each other. People who struggle with a substance use disorder or a mental illness (or both; approximately half of all addicts have such a dual diagnosis) are especially vulnerable to homelessness.

An analysis from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development— found more than 250,000 homeless people suffering from chronic substance use disorder or severe mental disorder.

The reasons why animals and addicts end up homeless are not identical. Pets end up in shelters because their owners aren't around or can't (or won't) take care of them any longer. Addicts become homeless because addiction disrupts their relationships with their family, friends, co-workers.

Even people recovering from addiction are at risk for relapse if they do not rebuild those relationships and get the needed support and intervention from their communities and families.

Sometimes they cannot. Like older animals, recovering addicts may face discrimination, rejection, and feel unloved. Many people looking to adopt a shelter cat or dog want young ones, not full-grown pets with signs of abuse or hard living. Some otherwise charitable people consider addicts as unworthy of help, considering it a moral failing rather than a disease.

This mindset is among the many issues that families of people in recovery and patients themselves want to address through education and the promotion of support for people with a substance use disorder.

A home in each other’s arms

Sometimes a solution is found within the problem itself. Luckily, the commonalities shared by shelter animals and people in recovery are binding them toward a sense of belongingness. A lot of inspiring stories of people in recovery and shelter animals finding the love they long for have been shared in news reports this year.

Among these heartbreaking stories is that of the rescued animal named Shep, a German Shepherd who is now expressing his gratitude towards people by bringing hope to patients in a recovery facility in Lexington, Kentucky.

In California, a man named Zach Skow, who credits rescue dogs with helping him overcome his own substance use disorder, has found hope in finding new families for other rescued animals. Skow described the relationship between him and the adoptive pets as something “very powerful, very impactful.”

Benefits of taking pets in recovery

While the research on the interactions between humans and animals is considered relatively new, there are studies that show how animal-assisted therapies, like pets in addiction recovery, can greatly help people who are struggling to achieve long-term sobriety.

Owning a pet boosts a person’s mood. Pets are found to have the ability to reduce anxiety and stress levels in people. They give the unconditional love which people in recovery need.

Research already has found the benefits of having pets around children with autism spectrum disorder. Those children were found to exhibit better social interactions and were calmer.

Here are some of the other known benefits of pets in therapy:

  1. Give comfort
  2. Act as catalysts in therapy sessions
  3. Heighten mental stimulation
  4. Lower anxiety and help people to feel relaxed
  5. Reduce loneliness
  6. Improve cardiovascular health
  7. Boost self-esteem

Data from the American Pet Products Association showed that there were approximately 85.8 million cats and 78 million dogs owned in the United States from 2015 to 2016. However, 6.5 million animals are taken to animal shelters every year, according to the American Society for the Prevention and Cruelty to Animals. About 1.5 million are euthanized.

With the number of animals needing shelter and of people with substance use disorders in the US, imagine how many lives of pets and humans could be improved if only they found each other in time.

- January 2, 2019