Meet Jed (and how pets can be the best therapy)
Updated: Mar 2, 2021
This is Jed – my four-legged furry saviour. As it’s World Mental Health Day, it feels appropriate to give credit where it’s due and publically thank Jed for the part he has played in turning my life around.
Yes, he’s a dog. He can’t read. He won’t ever know that I’m thanking him. Or, indeed, what a “thank you” even is. But he’s a good dog, and he definitely knows that.
It was the day before Valentine’s Day this year when the dream of taking on a dog started to become a reality. I was at my lowest ebb and out of ideas. Having spent a good few hours inexplicably bawling to my other half in the kitchen, I let him know that I couldn’t go on as things were and needed a big change to restore some equilibrium.
From the outside, I have it all. I own my own home and two cars, have an interesting and exciting marketing career, a loving family, fantastic friends, a pet cat called Ziggy, a solid education and a one-in-a-billion husband whom I finally married in December 2017 after postponing our original wedding due to my sudden and severe decline in mental health.
For me though, this can often prove the biggest part of the problem. I have no reason to feel sad, anxious or alone. I feel guilty for the impact it has on my loved ones. I feel selfish when I see or read about the real suffering in the world – people who have lost everything; or those that have faced the greatest adversities imaginable but have emerged stronger because of it.
Henry Fraser is a case in point. I recently came across his name from an Amazon book recommendation entitled The Little Big Things and was eager to find out more. A freak accident whilst on holiday with his friends in Portugal led him to be paralysed from the shoulders down. He is now a best-selling author and an awe-inspiringly talented artist, painting artwork with his mouth that I could only dream of creating with my two hands!
The sad reality is that these stories of triumph in the face of adversity can often make those with poor mental health feel even worse about themselves. Why can’t they be this strong? Why can’t they get a grip on their “first world problems” and get their sh*t together?
In my case, I’m someone who needs external accountability to cope – or even survive - during my depressive periods. Whilst I know a long walk outside can help clear my head and make me feel better, I will often choose to stay indoors because I’ve grown accustomed to – and accepting of - the feeling of letting myself down. Not doing enough to take care of myself has been the norm for many years, to the point that in February this year I was struggling to even identify which behaviours were healthy and which weren’t.
Enter Jed the Cockapoo. Born on 11th January, he was a gorgeous bundle of apricot-coloured cuteness when we first met him. Not much bigger than my hands, he made a beeline for me as my husband, brother and sister-in-law sat in a ring on the cold stone kitchen floor of the breeder’s country home. He clambered on to my lap whilst his siblings gnawed at my shoelaces, and determinedly stayed there for the duration of our visit. We had no other option but to choose him as our new family member.
Anyone who has met him will tell you what a happy dog he is. He greets everyone – and I mean everyone – like a long-lost friend. His default tail mode is top-speed wagging and, with his big brown eyes, floppy ears and flapping tongue, you can’t help but smile at the sight of him.
He is 9 months old tomorrow and is already almost too heavy to lift. His energy knows no bounds and he loves nothing more than running off-lead over the local hills towards you (taste-testing the occasional cow pat on the way…).Best of all, he’s there each and every evening ready to snuggle up on the sofa with me and my husband, licking our hands and begging for tummy rubs before nodding off to chase squirrels in his dreams.
I’m currently reading Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet in which one paragraph has particularly stayed with me:
“Be near animals. Non-human animals are therapeutic for all kinds of reasons. One reason is that they don’t have news. Dogs and cats and goldfish and antelope literally don’t care. The things that are important to us - politics and economics and all those fluctuating things – are not important to them. And their lives, like ours, still go on.”
Jed has provided me with the culpability that I so desperately needed. If I don’t walk him during the day, no one else will. If I don’t feed him, he’ll go hungry. If I don’t fill up his water bowl, he’ll be thirsty. By virtue of taking care of a puppy, I wake up earlier than I would have done, I enjoy the great outdoors more, I’m increasingly sociable and overall I’m a much calmer and happier person around him. It’s nice to think that they need us, but the truth is that we need them most of all.
So, here’s to our non-human friends who make our days that little bit brighter, and keep that light shining through the darkest of hours to help us find our way.
P.S. You can follow the little guy on Instagram @MeetJed