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Episode 14: How Animals Help Kids Cope

The donkey mentioned is a "mammoth" donkey.



[00:00:00] Today, I want to talk to you about animals, because animals have a ton of benefits for kids and really help them cope when they're going through something difficult. And I wanted to start out by saying that,you don't have to have a pet in order to have the benefits of an animal. When I was first divorced and my daughter and I moved into an apartment, we were not allowed to have any animals or we were going to get evicted. And obviously, having a roof over your head is a lot better than having a pet. Nobody wants to live in a cardboard box EVEN if you have a dog.

[00:00:42] So this episode will be good for you, even if you don't want a dog or cat, or you can't have one. So I'm going to give you some tips about how you can find some animals to hang out with your kids and what the benefits of it are.

[00:01:01] So first off, I'll tell you what the benefits are. Spending time with animals actually elevates the levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain, which helps people feel calm and relaxed. This can help your kids, and it can help you - because you probably are going to go with them, right, so you want the benefits of this, too! It's really good for your mental health in that it helps you feel really peaceful.

[00:01:28] There have been all kinds of studies about how animals impact people. Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than people without pets. People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than people without pets. And one study even found that people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs and their blood pressure declined significantly within five months. So there are mental health benefits, but there can also be physical health benefits depending on what's going on with you.

[00:02:00] Animals just have super good energy, and releasing all of your stress by petting an animal? I mean really - it's awesome! So playing with a dog or cat can elevate your levels of serotonin and dopamine, like I just mentioned, which help calm and relax you. Heart attack patients with dogs survive longer than people without them. And there have been all kinds of studies about the impact of animals on your long-term mental health.

[00:02:33] Pets also provide a sense of security and a sense of safety. They make sure that you're in a routine, too. If you think about it, if you're feeling depressed, but your little furry friend needs you to take care of them, you're a lot more likely to get out of bed and help them than if they weren't there. So that really helps a lot with depression and keeping you in a routine.

[00:02:55] And if you've been listening to the podcast or following me at all on social media, which you should, if you don't, you know that the benefits of routine are enormous. They really help a lot with mental health. They give you a lot of things that you don't have to think about, which lowers your stress level. And studies have also shown that pets are a facilitator in getting to know people. If you think about our kids, that makes a ton of sense, because even if they're socially awkward and don't know what to say to other kids, you know, nothing is a better conversation starter than having hung out with an animal lately or having a pet.

[00:03:35] So here are a few ideas about how you can get your kids involved with animals even if you don't have a pet or don't want one. The first thing that I did for my daughter — because she has been obsessed with cats since she was just itty bitty (she was a cat for like five years in a row for Halloween, like they are her animals.) She feels super connected to them. So the first thing that I did was I took her to an animal shelter. The people there are super cool. Even if you're not interested in adopting an animal, the animals really benefit from social contact with humans, too.

[00:04:16] So the people who work at the shelters were totally open to just opening their doors to us so that we could hang out with the cats and just pet them and be around them and their fur and how soft and fluffy they were. It was super good for my daughter. So that was the first thing that we did. The second thing we did was — and we are near a big city, so this might not apply to everybody who listens to the podcast — but we have a couple of cat cafes. One of them is in Oakland and I think one of them was in San Francisco. But we got on a waiting list to go and have hot chocolate while petting cats at a cat cafe. If you don't have a cat cafe, you probably DO have a local shelter. We also found that at our local PetSmart, they had those cages outside of the grooming area where they would keep cats that were from a rescue. The rescues need volunteers to come in on a weekly basis to clean out the kitty litter boxes and also just socialize the cats . . . So you can volunteer to do that. And then you have a opportunity on a weekly basis, like an actual appointment, where you go and hang out with the cats.

[00:05:45] Another thing that you can do is raise kittens or puppies through fostering. I would actually recommend doing SENIOR dogs if you're going to do fostering of dogs, because if you are dealing with something difficult in your life, the last thing you need is a puppy peeing and pooping everywhere and whining and crying and keeping you up all night. Senior dogs are an awesome opportunity for your kids, because they're really low-key and they're really sweet. So you can offer to foster a senior dog or kittens (which is what we did). And it gives your kids an opportunity to have a sense of ownership and a sense of just pride in taking care of an animal and being a comfort to them, in addition to taking the comfort from the animal.

[00:06:46] Also, equine therapy is awesome — that's therapy with horses. The reason why horses are used in therapy is actually super fascinating. Horses have a unique sensitivity to people's emotions, so they react to subtle changes in their environment and they can actually sense a kid's emotional state, including senses of anxiety or depression. So the horse kind of acts as a biofeedback machine, responding to kids' emotions and reflecting them back. And it's a really fun way for kids to get actual therapeutic benefits from hanging out with an animal.

[00:07:35] I also want to take right now as an opportunity to mention that a lot of these places have grants, so if you have a major illness or financial hardship due to divorce, money does not necessarily need to be a barrier between you and being able to have access these things.

[00:07:59] There are also nonprofits that help kids interact with animals. We go to a local farm. It's a teeny tiny little farm. It's super clean. We went for the first time last week and got to meet a giant donkey. I am not kidding you. I will post this online. You absolutely must follow me @mightyandbrightco on Instagram because I will post a picture of this giant donkey. It's a special breed of donkey and I want to call it like a massive donkey or a gargantuan donkey. I don't know what it's called. I will figure out what it's called and posted online. But it was a special kind of donkey that's endangered and they are known for being incredibly sweet. And so this donkey came right up to us and was like nuzzling my cheek and wanted pets and was just so, so sweet. They had emus, they had llamas, they had miniature cows and chickens and pigs. And one of the pigs was moving his little pig nose and wagging his little pig tail.

[00:09:16] It was awesome. This farm is mostly for kids who have experienced abuse, but it's also for kids that have experienced any kind of hardship. I live in Santa Rosa, California. And that name might sound familiar to you because we have been, unfortunately, at the epicenter of a couple of California's major wildfires. In 2017, a whole lot of people in our city lost their houses due to the Tubbs Fire. So there is a lot of PTSD in kids and families around here because they literally were running for their lives away from the fire. So the farm opened its doors to kids who were affected by the fire.

[00:10:11] And then again, there are volunteer opportunities where you can walk dogs at humane societies or just walk in whenever you feel like it and pet them.

[00:10:20] I hope this has been helpful to you, to try and find a way to be around animals for your kids, because like I said, spending time with animals elevates the relaxation hormones in your brain and really what could be better?! So I hope you found this helpful. And I will talk to you next time. Thanks for listening.