Mental health is a topic that not everyone is comfortable discussing. As a result, too many people needlessly suffer in silence. DDR works with pet owners who struggle with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illnesses ranging from severe depression, anxiety to schizophrenia. One thing we all have in common, and I include myself because I struggle with depression, is our love for our pets. Our pets give us a purpose to wake up and start a new day, regardless of the level of uncertainty tomorrow might bring. Pets are the one constant source of unconditional love. When you or one of your loved ones suffers from mental illness, life can be chaotic, and full of disappointments and lost promises. A life that lacks meaningful connections. There is often a range from happiness highs only to be followed by the depths of depression, angry outbursts, feeling like one is alone in a world where no one cares. No one except your pets. I write this from what people have shared with me, and from my own personal experience of growing up with a bipolar parent.
I was about eight years old when my father was finally diagnosed as being bipolar or, as it was called back in the 1970’s, manic-depression. While I was too young to fully understand what his diagnosis meant, I did feel a sense of relief to hear my mom explain that my dad had an illness, and that his temper, and erratic behavior were not things he had a lot of control over. Sometimes, I wondered what it would be like to grow up in a “normal home”. I learned that with the bad came the good. Yes, my father could be violent and scary, but he was a creative person who encouraged me to be creative person, who has made a successful career out of designing. He was also a giving person who, through his actions, demonstrated the importance of being of service – a lesson I have learned to live by. Even though my dad was challenged to keep a job, pay the bills, follow through with plans, which resulted in a lot of unhappy times for him, he has always had a positive outlook.
Growing up with a bipolar father made me appreciate mental health – something that many take for granted. Mental illness does not mean that someone is crazy. 1 in 25 people living in the United States lives with a serious mental illness. Therefore, it is likely that you or someone in your family, has a diagnosis that requires ongoing care. When I started DDR more than twenty years ago, there was little support for homeless and low income pet owners. If someone needed to be hospitalized, the person would lose their pet to the shelter or be forced to give their pet away to a “good home”, to someone who could offer the pet a “better life”. Fast forward to the present. It is now common practice to work to keep a pet with their person, even a person who needs to be hospitalized for mental illness.
The owner of dogs Sheba and Nubian needed to be hospitalized to regulate her medication for a manageable mental illness. Our counselors were the first people she made contact with when she knew it would be best to receive this intensive therapy. Sheba and Nubian are well cared for and loved very much by their owner. She may not be able always be able to afford veterinary care or grooming, but is resourceful in finding programs like DDR and https://homedogla.org/ that often supplies her with pet food. DDR has a team of volunteers and counselors who work together to provide all the necessary resources. In this case, volunteer Leslie picked up the dogs, brought them to our monthly vaccine clinic, and returned them to their home. The next day, counselor Lola picked up the dogs so that they could go into boarding while their owner was hospitalized for two weeks. When she is released, her dogs will be returned to her, and our support will be a phone call or text away. Offering veterinary care and boarding is more than a service, it is support that pet owners can trust and believe in.
DDR understands how courageous pet owners are to seek mental health care, to recognize that they are not well, and to have hope for a healthier more enjoyable life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been introduced to someone’s pet, and the introduction goes like this, “I want you to meet (insert name of the pet), she saved my life.” I am grateful that I have the opportunity to be of service, which is part of my own recovery. Helping each other, connecting with others, whether two or four legged, is necessary and healthy for all of us, especially now.
Thanks to all of you who donate and continue to support Downtown Dog Rescue, we can continue to be a constant source of support for vulnerable pet owners. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you would like to share your personal experience, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Loriweise@gmail.com