Who Rescued Whom? Dogs Support Sustained Recovery

For people in recovery, dogs can be a valuable support.

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Living with an emotional support animal may alleviate symptoms associated with a number of emotional and psychiatric disabilities. That includes substance use disorder.

Dogs are sometimes called “man’s best friend.” For people in recovery, dogs can be a valuable support. The emotional and mental health benefits of having a dog (or another animal to care for) can be helpful for people who are coping with feelings of isolation, rejection, or other social stigmas.

The benefits can be significant, as one sober living home in Lexington, Kentucky is learning. Evan Rice, who volunteers at the Shepherd’s House in Lexington, brought the dog he’s fostering to the facility. Shepherd’s House is a long-term recovery residence for men with substance use disorder.

Rice told CBS that Shep “was barely able to stand up, so we were having to carry him everywhere we went.” Shep had been severely neglected by his previous owner. He had a shattered hip from being hit by a car and never received care for any of his injuries. He was rescued and brought to Paws 4 the Cause Rescue in Lexington, where Rice became his foster parent.

According to CBS, Rice took Shep with him one day to the recovery residence. One of the men living at the house carried the dog outside to use the bathroom.

Jerod Thomas of Shepherd House told CBS, “Another man [living there] asked a question about the dog and he said, ‘It’s the broken helping the broken.’ Those men have been helping to care for Shep as he heals … it dawned on us we need to keep this dog.”

Since then, the other residents have stepped up and are helping take care of Shep while he gets his balance back.

According to TherapyPet, there are powerful benefits to keeping a pet or other kind of emotional support animal. Taking care of a dog can help by providing:

  • Companionship
  • Reduced Levels of Stress
  • Lessens Isolation
  • Reduces Anxiety
  • Keep You Distracted

The emotional benefits of having an animal to care for are documented in many research studies on the psychophysiological and psychosocial benefits of positive social interaction with a pet, such as holding or stroking an animal. “These benefits include calming and relaxing, lowering anxiety, alleviating loneliness, enhancing social engagement and interaction, normalizing heart rate and blood pressure, reducing pain, reducing stress, reducing depression and increasing pleasure. Based on the results of these studies, it is plausible that living with an emotional support animal may alleviate symptoms associated with a number of emotional and psychiatric disabilities.” That includes substance use disorder, which is a mental health disorder.

According to Counseling Today, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recognizes the benefits of emotional support animals and provides regulations allowing them to live with an owner in designated non-pet housing (with a few exceptions) without requiring a pet deposit fee. HUD states, “Emotional support animals by their very nature, and without training, may relieve depression and anxiety, and/or help reduce stress-induced pain in persons with certain medical conditions affected by stress.”

And for rescue dogs like Shep, there are lots of perks of living in a recovery home.

Thomas said, “I tried to figure it out: does Shep needs us more, or do we need Shep more?”

Good dog, Shep.

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