Sometimes when we experience anxiety, well-meaning people can unintentionally do more harm than good. A pet? Never! That’s why service animals can be so effective for so many people. Rather than advice or “tough love,” they will simply be affectionate companions.

An emotional service dog is good at sensing its owner’s moods and so is a cat! Though cats have a reputation for aloofness, the BBC reported in 2015 that cats are much more likely to purr and stick close to their owners when those humans are smiling. A research study published in Animal Cognition revealed that cats exhibit this happier behavior only in relation to their owners. They fell back into the aloofness we’re so familiar with when paired with strangers, smiling or not. A purring cat, especially one sitting next to us or on our lap, can’t help but communicate contentment and thereby lower our anxiety. On the MyPTSD online forum, members report cats licking tears from their face, helping stop flashbacks by pawing at their backs and crawling onto their chests when they sense their owner is feeling anxious.
Support pets also make excellent listeners. You can share your most private fears and anxieties with an animal freely, knowing you won’t be judged. Often, getting things off our chest can lift a great weight from our shoulders and ease our stress and anxiety.

Your pet could be able to be with you wherever you may feel anxious or anticipate doing so. After service animal registration, your dog, cat, horse, rabbit or other emotional support animal is ready to accompany you to many places other pets are not permitted. The only training they may require is the ability to sit quietly for long periods of time without being easily distracted and disruptive to those around you.

Emotional support animals can reduce anxiety in children as well as adults. Adolescents tell researchers they get more comfort from pets than from humans. The Centers for Disease Control studied anxiety levels in children who did and did not have a pet at home — specifically, a dog. Of the overall group, 12 percent had anxiety … but when only the children without dogs were tested, that figure nearly doubled, with 21 percent revealing anxiety.

Being mindful significantly reduces stress and anxiety, and service dogs help us do just that. They generally make the most of whatever moment they’re in and help their owners to live just as mindfully. In other words, we can learn to find as much joy in life as our service animal.

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