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Prescribing pets

January 20 - 26, 2021

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille

Gulf Weekly Prescribing pets

The power of pets are helping people cope with anxiety they have been suffering during the pandemic.

Experts and animal lovers around the world have found their furry friends not only provide unconditional love during difficult times, but also are an essential part of people’s psychological toolkit, overall health and well-being.

“Animal assisted therapy has been a successful mode of treatment in psychology for quite some time,” said Mariam Alammadi, a licensed psychologist and founder of The Child & Family Foundation Centre in Bahrain.

“Animals can provide someone with a sense of calm, provide them with comfort, help combat loneliness, aid them in forgetting physical pain and help them de-stress.”

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, pets offer a variety of health benefits, including decreased blood pressure, lowered cholesterol levels, decreased levels of triglycerides which are a type of fat in your body, reduced feelings of loneliness, increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities and improved opportunities for social connection.

“Research also indicates that having a relationship with animals can help people, especially children, develop better self-esteem, better trust and improve their emotional regulation,” she added.

“During Covid-19 we were not able to touch other family and friends outside of our home and this made us feel very isolated and we sought physical comfort.

“So, having a pet at this time really helped many people. Hugging or petting animals not only makes you feel happy and de-stressed, it can also help reduce depression, help you relax, ease tension and releases dopamine and serotonin - the feel-good hormones.”

Mariam also said that pets, such as dogs, provide discipline, routine, exercise and joy. Plus, the act of caring gives life purpose and meaning.

Meanwhile, former Bahrain resident Dr Tejas Sameer, a British animal reiki master, teacher and gut health practitioner, who currently lives in Muscat, stated that recent scientific research demonstrates the health benefits of having animal companions from an early age.

“It helps improve the richness, diversity and resilience of the body’s various microbiomes, thus leading to better overall immunity, allergy resistance and reducing the risk of autoimmune and metabolic diseases in future,” she explained.

“As adults, we find ourselves in a much better place due to lower levels of depression, cortisol and hypertension, thanks to animals. Then there are medical alert animals as well that are invaluable to their humans.

“Similar peer reviewed research demonstrates the mental and emotional benefits of having furry paws, winged, scaly, gilled friends with us. They help us lower overall symptoms of post-traumatic stress and lower levels of social isolation and give greater ability to participate in social activities - something that was so poignant throughout 2020!

“I was blessed when my family-of-three suddenly expanded to a family of seven whilst in Bahrain.

“I adopted three Dilmun dogs and a cat that are now with my family in Muscat. As the whole world went completely topsy-turvy in 2020, it was immensely helpful to have them around, to keep us grounded in the now and to sense the smallest, simplest joys available through their unconditional love.”

Animal loving Muna Aldaaysi, who works in procurement, volunteers at the Bahrain Animal Rescue Centre, as well as offers foster care to dogs.

She said: “The level of emotional intelligence that animals possess, dogs in particular, allows them to connect to humans on an intrinsic level.

“They understand and connect to human emotion and often times even display an appropriate reaction to their human’s physical or emotional well-being.

“When you’re upset or unwell, your dog will know innately to lay by your side and comfort you. When you are happy, your dog will jump in excitement for you. 

“During Covid-19, people were at home more often, isolated from the world and living an out of the norm lifestyle. Put simply, my dogs are there when no one else is.

“Some are my own and some are ‘fosters’ awaiting their forever homes. Our big furry family includes Courage, Marley, Teddy, Kenai, Tango, Cash and Cheeto.

“I’ve had Courage the longest so she is my girl through thick and thin. Courage fills me with joy on the darkest days; her goofiness and clumsy nature are always the highlight of my day.

“Whenever I come home after a long day at work, I am met with wiggles and happy yaps. She acts as if she hasn’t seen me in 10 years, when in fact it was only the morning that same day.

“She has shown me unconditional love, compassion and given me pure happiness. I couldn’t ask for a more loyal companion.”

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