“She was a stray from the streets that had to be brought in on a catchpoll. Twenty-five pounds of just pure rage."
She — Mama, the 25-pound dog that was once full of rage — has shown behavioral coordinator of the Lawrence Humane Society, Ethan Hrabe, a companionship that nothing else can compare to.
"I was brand new working here and I knew nothing about animal behavior. I already had bad anxiety and being new didn’t help, especially when one of my first tasks was to care of this dog," Hrabe says. "They told me it would take a while for her to open up. Three days later, I was able to get her out of the cage. Before I knew it, she became attached to me and I became very attached to her. And just like that, I ended up adopting her within the same week.”
There are ways to help with the lows of life, or the lows of school, that aren't found over the counter. They might be fluffy, and are always affectionate and loyal. They could even have a wet nose.
Yes: they're pets.
Hrabe has dealt with mental health problems throughout his life, but is positive that Mama helps him through a lot of it. “You know, if I didn’t have her, I would just have a different demeanor. I think it definitely irons out any inconsistencies in people’s moods — at least it does for me. Mama was there when I went through tough times with my older brother a couple years ago." Hrabe says.
"So, from a first-hand account, I definitely think there is a positive impact that pets have on peoples’ minds and especially mental health. Mama has greatly improved mine.”
Naturalist and author for the Boston Globe, Sy Montgomery, writes that pets just help us. “Cat owners enjoy a 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk. Watching swimming fish lowers blood pressure. Stroking a dog boosts the immune system. Now researchers can explain the source of our companion animals’ healing powers: Our pets profoundly change the biochemistry of our brains.”
Dr. Mike McFarland, executive director of companion animal marketing at Zoetis Petcare, co-founded the non-profit research institution The Pet Effect. The organization studies the science and medicine of the eponymous "pet effect" — the human-animal bond that is mutually beneficial for both the human and pet.
"The Pet Effect is more than just a cool topic to bring up at parties," says their about page. "This is important scientific information that affects everybody. And people of influence are using these discoveries to make decisions—from doctors who are recommending pets to their patients, to policy makers who are working to loosen restrictions on where pets can be with their people."
And truly, anyone who owns a pet can tell you that the constant love and companionship they feel with their animal really brightens their mood.
“If I’m ever having a bad day because of school, or my anxiety is really bad, my favorite part is coming home to see my sweet girl Dixie. It just makes me so much happier. It always has,” says University student Megan Lask. Lask has struggled with anxiety problems and the toil of being alone through her college years. She says she wishes she figured out about fostering or adopting an animal at the beginning of her college career.
“Adopting an animal for my mental health has been one of the best decisions I have made. Because the relationship that you can have with your pet is just one that will never get old. At the end of the day, my stress and anxiety seem to disappear," Lask says. "[There's] just a good feeling that you can get from an animal that is hard to explain.”
According to the Association for College Counseling Center Directors, in 2013, 36.4 percent of college students reported they’ve experienced some level of depression or a mental illness. Maybe more pets around campus can help.
If you're looking for a companion, both the Lawrence Humane Society and Pet World Experience located in Lawrence are known as some of the best places to find your own pet. They have plenty of visiting hours, as well as ways to adopt a pet. According to the Lawrence Humane Society, about 40 people per week come in just to visit an animal. Hrabe thinks that this high number is due to the many daily stressors that someone can encounter with school or everyday life.
“Many people come in with just a regular attitude and a normal smirk or smile. But I definitely notice their attitude leaving, because it’s happier and their face has an even bigger smile with an ease to their walk," Hrabe says.
"It’s always a good feeling seeing that because I know the exact reason why. It’s an animal.”