The article is originally posted on the Mighty community.
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Having an emotional support animal is very helpful for a lot of people’s mental health. It’s a source of unconditional love, goofy antics, and cuddles that doesn’t care about how much money you make, where you’re from, or what you look like. A lot of people rely on emotional support animals, or just pets in general, to help keep them mentally afloat, but let’s not forget the reason a lot of people have emotional support animals is because they are in fact mentally struggling.
Having an emotional support animal means that there is a certain amount of energy you’re going to have to devote to your animal every day so they can live healthy and happy lives, and in a lot of ways that’s good because it gives people a certain amount of accountability that they need to show up for every single day. While that can be helpful, what happens when you don’t have the energy to get out of bed even with an animal that you love and care for a lot.
Before I continue, I want to stress that I do believe that animal neglect can happen. If you realize that having a pet is too much for you and you cannot give it the care that it needs, find someone who can.
That being said, I’ve had numerous dogs over the past 16 years through varying different stages of mental illness. I’ve had pets when I’m stable, when I wanted to die, and when I was somewhere in the middle of it all. I can’t just stop taking care of my pets just because I’m depressed, so I’ve had to find workarounds for the really hard days.
These tips worked for me. They may not work for you, and I highly suggest taking into consideration your animals’ behavior and training as that can heavily impact what clicks and what doesn’t.
If I can barely get out of bed, walking a dog becomes a whole separate task. Here are some alternatives for both pottying and exercising that I found.
1. Give your dog an indoor option.
Something that’s helped a lot is that both of my small dogs have been pee pad trained. I know some people don’t love them, but I have small dogs and I think it’s good to give them an indoor option any day because of their bladder. They create wee wee pads that are absorbent and save your floors (unlike newspapers), grass pads so the dogs still get the feel and pheromones that come with outdoor pottying, and some pet owners have even trained their dogs to use the toilet. That’s not me, but a wee wee pad works wonders. I’m fortunate in that my dog still prefers to go outside, so it’s only for emergency depression days, but I’m thankful nonetheless.
2. Ask a friend, neighbor, or family member to walk your dog.
This is a simple alternative, and I like to think asking for help is always a great hack. Asking a trusted individual who is good with your dog to walk them for a few days or a week or so could help give you the reprieve that you need.
3. If you have the money, invest in some new stimulating toys.
One of the largest reasons I have to walk my dog isn’t just because of pottying, but because I have a mini Australian Shepherd who will destroy everything I love if she gets bored and has too much energy. Making sure she still gets exercise and brain stimulation is crucial. I invested in a lot of toys for her so she has different options – squeaky toys, rip and crinkle toys, pheromone toys, you name it. That helps with her brain stimulation if I’m busy (read: depression napping). That, or I’ll make sure I’m playing with her from the comfort of my bed or couch. A ball or rope toy (be careful with which ones you buy because they can be dangerous if ingested) allows her to still play while I don’t have to leave my seat. If you have the money and outdoor space, I know some pet parents get machines that throw the ball for the pet so they can play fetch on their own. Some dogs (like mine) do need more exercise and stimulation, while others don’t! It all comes down to the pet.
1. Once again, ask for help.
There’s nothing wrong with asking someone who lives close by if they can come over during a period of time that you know you won’t be able to get up (early mornings for me) and feed the dog. This means that you can sleep in, and make sure you catch the next feeding time.
2. Invest in an automatic feeder.
Some people use automatic feeders for this reason. It works primarily with dry foods, so this may not work if you feed wet or semi-wet food, but this could be a good solution if you do feed your pet kibble.
1. Make sure your toys are available to your dog.
Some dogs are more self-sufficient than others. My dog is very good at picking up a toy when she wants to and going to town. It’s for that reason I try to make her toys readily available. I did hear from a trainer that you never want to have your toys always available, because they may lose interest, so make sure you switch out the ones available to them every now and then.
2. Puppy play dates.
Beyond this being great material for Tik Tok, ask a friend who has a dog (that you trust) if they can pet sit for a day or two, or if your dog can hang out with theirs. This way your dog gets some good playtime and stimulation, meanwhile you can take care of yourself.
3. Get toys that you can play with without leaving the comfort of your bed or couch.
I already spoke on this, but it also applies in this section too.
Other options are available too. Having a friend pet sit if you need a week or so to yourself, or pet daycares and boarding as well. As long as your dog is getting what they need, temporary solutions like that shouldn’t be frowned upon.
Now as I said, these are living, breathing, caring creatures who love with every fiber of their being. If having a pet is too much responsibility when paired with your mental health conditions, it’s OK to do what’s right for them and find a suitable pet parent who can give them the attention and care they need. However, if all you need are minor breaks or slight adjustments, then I hope these tricks work for you.
Love yourself the way you love your dog, that way you can be the best dog parent you can be.