Feeling stressed? Anxious? Petting a cow or an alpaca could be just the solution you need. Several stress-busting therapies involving different kinds of animals have sprung up around the world in recent years. Plus, a host of research has shown the positive impact that animals can have on people suffering from depression or loneliness.
Pet owners already know that animals can help comfort us after a bad day. Owning a pet brings its share of responsibilities -- not to mention mishaps, with cats marking their territory in the living room and dogs chewing your favorite sneakers. However, animals can be more helpful than you might think when it comes to maintaining better mental health.
At the end of September, the Universities of York and Lincoln in the UK published the results of their joint research on the link between pets and reduced stress during the covid-19 lockdown. According to the study -- which covers the lockdown period of March 23 to June 1 this year -- most participants said that their pet was a source of considerable support during lockdown while also reducing loneliness. Of the 6,000 participants, 96% even said that their pet helped keep them fit and active. Lead author, Dr Elena Ratschen from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York said: "Findings from this study also demonstrated potential links between people's mental health and the emotional bonds they form with their pets: measures of the strength of the human-animal bond were higher among people who reported lower scores for mental health-related outcomes at baseline. We also discovered that in this study, the strength of the emotional bond with pets did not statistically differ by animal species, meaning that people in our sample felt on average as emotionally close to, for example, their guinea pig as they felt to their dog."
Traditional types of pets aren't the only animals capable of boosting our mental health, as demonstrated by a recent study conducted by the UK's University of Leeds in partnership with Western Australia Tourism. The results of this study, published late August, show that watching videos of cute animals like quokkas, typical to Western Australia, could help reduce stress by up to 50% in certain cases. Plus, this kind of therapy could be readily accessible to anyone and everyone, even in the exceptional conditions.
In fact, in recent years, a host of highly original animal therapies have started to emerge. From yoga with goats to petting cows, these surprising activities have become a whole new business sector. In the town of Naples in New York State, the Mountain Horse Farm is now offering a "Horse & Cow Experience" offering two people (aged over 16) 60 minutes of cow cuddling and horse meeting for US$75 (or US$125 for four people). "If you book a session with the horses & cows it will be about finding a connection, getting close to the natural world, slowing down, taking time to take a breath, doing something new and exciting, finding peace & quietness and simply Be," reads the Mountain Horse Farm website.
Previously, in 2019, the UK prison HMP Swaleside in Kent offered prisoners the opportunity to care for goats as a positive social activity forming part of their rehabilitation. Plus, the gardens of the "La Canopée" retirement home in France's Charente region recently welcomed two alpacas to help residents find a certain serenity.