Open Mind: Furry friends as therapy

When I am asked how I cope with my mental health, people may expect an answer such as reading, drawing and going on walks. 

All of these are amazing coping skills that may help others, but personally, my coping mechanism is my dog. My dog is my best friend and has helped me so much through my journey. 

Nothing is better than coming home from a hard day to be greeted with a smiling face, wagging tail and tons of puppy kisses. 

Furry friends can make a deep impact in our lives. 

Dogs enrich the lives of many people by offering companionship, solace and unwavering love. Dogs can also have a profound effect on our mental health and offer us more than just companionship. As someone who grew up autistic, I found that I was able to connect with dogs easier than people. Dogs would offer me social support, unconditional love and a lack of judgment, which helped me experience greater happiness and well-being. 

Dogs can also help reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness, especially for those living alone or in rural areas. They give people a reason to go outside and socialize, whether it be by going for a walk in the park or stopping by a café that allows dogs. 

In my experience, dogs can also aid in reducing the signs of anxiety and depression. For instance, I’ve learned that petting a dog can raise your oxytocin level, which is linked to social bonding and stress reduction. 

Even in the darkest times of my depression, when I would push everyone away, my dog never left my side. She would snuggle me, kiss my face and give me unconditional love even when I felt unloveable. She would give me the motivation to get out of bed, to play fetch or to give her a treat. 

She would provide me with a sense of calmness and always knew how to make me smile and feel better. 

Sometimes I feel like she can read my mind. She snuggles me when I need it but also knows when I need space. When I come home from a stressful day she greets me with a wagging tail and a smiling face, ready for our daily de-stressing snuggles.

Dogs can have a positive effect on mental health. While including a dog in your treatment plan may offer extra advantages and support, it is important to remember that they cannot take the place of receiving help from a mental health professional if you are dealing with a mental health condition. 

Dogs can also instill a sense of responsibility and purpose, which may be beneficial.  

To make sure you can give your furry friend a happy and healthy home, it’s crucial to research breeds and take your lifestyle into account if you’re thinking about getting a dog. 

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Evelyn Hazelwood is a student and Youth Talk participant with Meghan Mills, youth engagement facilitator with the CMHA.

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.

Evelyn Hazelwood