“Everyone thinks of committing suicide at some time,” my walking partner said as we settled into a steady pace for the 5K Wauk for Suicide Prevention and Awareness this past Saturday. We had both known people who have attempted and some who had succeeded at committing suicide.
Some of these people had spouses, kids, or good friends—but did any of them have pets? Not just house pets that belonged to everyone in the family, but a pet that was truly theirs to care for?
Common threads shared by people who commit suicide include depression, anxiety, loneliness and isolation. A pet, especially a dog, can help with many of these issues.
How Owning a Dog can Prevent Suicide
Our dogs rub up against us asking for pets. Their deep brown eyes ask us what is wrong, and if they can help. They may not understand, but they feel our emotions—our pain.
- Petting a dog, especially your own dog, helps reduce stress. Twenty years ago dogs stayed home while we tried to tackle the outside world alone. Now dogs are welcomed in businesses, hospitals, even in schools to help people cope with stress.
- Pets provide entertainment. Puppies chase their tails, kittens pounce on things. Pets just act goofy and they seem to know what will bring a smile to our face. Pets make us laugh.
- Dogs make us more social. Walking your dog in your neighborhood or in a nearby park gets you out and about and helps you meet people. My neighbors have become friends as I talk to them during my daily dog walks. Dogs help break the ice.
- You don’t feel alone. Coming home to an empty home feels lonely, but not when your dog yips and circles around you—demanding your attention and saying, “Boy I’m glad you’re here. Feed me—walk me!”
- Pets demand our attention—they live in the moment. It’s hard to resist their staring at the cabinet containing their food, or their nudges for attention.
- Dogs demand exercise—especially if you have a young dog. I’ve gone on many long dog walks just to keep my dog happy. Exercise releases serotonin, the happiness hormone.
- Pets give you a sense of belonging. They need you. Who would care for them if you were not there? They would miss you.
- Most of all, pets provide unconditional love. They don’t care what we look like or how we act, as long as we don’t abuse them, they love us—no matter what.
In Perfect Moments, a recent public radio broadcast of The Moth, Brian Finkelstein described working at a suicide hotline. Some of the key things mentioned were to find out the following information:
- Has the caller developed a plan on how to commit suicide?
- Have they taken steps today toward completing that plan?
- Do they say, “I just want the pain to go away?”
Providing a pet may be one way to help someone who is depressed and considering suicide. But one needs to be careful, not all pets make good companion or therapy animals.
Suicide awareness week is September 10 – 16. Find a walk near you and keep the up the conversation and awareness. I did.
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