Open Mind: Animal companions need support too

I love hearing about situations where people can gain support, comfort, confidence and skills from having dogs and other pets in their lives. Sometimes animals can really help to ease the symptoms of mental health conditions. The loving and non-judgemental, unconditional connection we share with animals does, in fact, contribute to an improved sense of wellbeing.

There is another side though, and that is responsible pet ownership. We gain many positives through our connection with animals but when we can’t look after ourselves well, due to our physical or mental health symptoms, who is looking after these dependent animals?

Sometimes cognitive decline and loss of self-care skills, or loss of functional abilities can be part of our lives. Unfortunately, there can be times that pets may suffer when their owners suffer.

Not all people live with others who can take over the responsibilities of owning and caring for a pet when necessary.

It is advisable to plan ahead if you have a pet. Find out who could be able to help out in a situation where you might become ill and need to be in the hospital for a while.

A plan that is agreed upon and known in advance of needing it is always better than trying to find services in a crisis. This way your pet can be cared for safely and quickly – and so can you.

Occasionally we have seen people delay their own treatments because of concerns as to what might happen to their pet.

Talk to other family members, friends and neighbours to see if they might be able and willing to look after your pet in the event of an emergency. Also, the Humane Society offers supportive stays for your pets if you need to go to hospital. Please talk with your veterinarian about options that are right for you.

My veterinarian tells people about the OVMA (Ontario Veterinary Medical Association) safe pet program. They will help people keep their pets safe as they escape domestic violence.  Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis, in conjunction with the Guelph Humane Society, will also help to look after your pet and keep them safe while you get the help and safety you need.

In speaking with the Guelph Humane Society to write this article,  they wanted me to remind everyone that they also partner with The Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo Wellington and have created the “Pets in Transition” program where they can keep animals safe while their owners get help for themselves.

The Guelph Humane Society not only has these partnerships to offer services to people and pets in need, but they also have their own “Emergency Holds” program where they can be contacted and will help look after your pet in emergency situations, such as hospitalization or other life crises.

We owe so much of our wellbeing to our support animals. Please take care of your furry friends so that they will continue to be able to take care of you.

For more information about the Guelph Humane Society please go to their website or call 519-824-3091.

Submitted by Paula Frappier, Homewood Health Centre/CMHA, community education coordinator. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit or call 1-844-HERE247.

Paula Frappier