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More people turning to pets for mental health support during pandemic

Posted at 12:22 PM, Sep 08, 2020

Animals have been used as therapy for years, because research has linked them to a decrease in anxiety and depression in pet parents.

It is sometimes referred to as the "Pet Effect" by experts and described this way by Mental Health America:

"The Pet Effect, also known as the human-animal bond, is the mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that positively impacts the health and well-being of both. Any pet owner will tell you that living with a pet comes with benefits, including constant companionship, love and affection."

A 2016 survey by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute found that nearly 75% of the animal owners they talked with reported mental health improvements from their furry family member.

With a global pandemic keeping many of us isolated, is now the time to adopt a pet?

"I adopted Sake from the Arizona Humane Societyon July 1," said Scottsdale dog owner Randi Chan.

Chan said she immediately brought a dog trainer into the mix and created a structured routine, something she did not have just a few months ago.

"Before I had her, I was probably working like 12 hours every day," Chan said. "Because... I'll take a break for dinner and then I'll be like, 'Well I have nothing better to do. I've already watched everything on Netflix, so I'll guess I'll start working again.'"

She knew that likely was not very positive for her mental health.

Now, Chan gets fluffy hugs and a reason to get outside safely for their walks.

"If anything, the pandemic has just raised awareness to the importance of both adoption and fostering," said Arizona Humane Society's Bretta Nelson.

They have moved to appointment-only for their adoptions. Once a prospective pet parent sets up their time slot, a representative from the shelter will call them ahead of time to go over what animals they may be interested in.

"We think with this one-on-one match-making process, you can talk to people about a pet's medical or their behavioral, and they weren't already attached before learning that information," Nelson explained. "So, they were able to make a logical decision."

That has helped their return rate for pets drastically decrease, while the number of families fostering has sky-rocketed.

However, most people will have to return to work at some point and the pets will have to be left behind.

Nelson said that a structured routine that is created the first time they come home will make that transition easier.

"Set a routine that's going to work, even when you're back at work," Nelson said. "Don't start taking them for walks at 11 a.m. every day if that's not something you can uphold because they're not going to be too happy about that."

Chan said she has been practicing putting Sake in her crate a little bit at a time, so she is comfortable and those trips to the park they both love will still be a part of their day-to-day routine.

"She really definitely brings a smile to my face because she is a very loving dog," Chan said.

To learn more about the pets up for adoption at the Arizona shelter, click here. To request an appointment, click here.

During these difficult times, a pet parent may also be struggling to provide for their beloved animal. The Arizona Humane Society offers a program called Bridge the Gap to provide resources to attempt to keep families together. Click here to learn how they can offer support.

This story was originally published by Megan Thompson at KNXV.