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Rescuing a dog could help you achieve better physical and mental health

Saving one dog won’t change the world - but the world will change forever for that dog and new owner

Dogs help man in many ways; from acting as the ears and eyes for those impaired of sight and sound, to sniffing out lost people or harmful substances, to protecting our family and property. But dogs can also perform an incredible, life-saving role - with no training.

For people suffering from mental health problems, feeling lonely or struggling to come to terms with a bereavement, dogs can provide a lifeline. And the RSPCA is encouraging more people to consider rescuing a dog in a bid to improve a dog’s life as well as their own.

Dr Julia Wrathall, chief scientific officer at the RSPCA, said: “Animals can make wonderful companions for those who find themselves feeling lonely or struggling with depression. As well as pets helping people, pairing prospective new owners with a suitable animal could also help ease the pressure on rescue centres who are full to bursting with unwanted pets.

“As well as providing vital companionship to people, there are also a number of other benefits to owning a pet. Evidence suggests that when we stroke animals - or in the case of dogs, when we just look into their eyes - our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone that brings about bonding between individuals as well as helping us feel more optimistic and lowering blood pressure.

“Owning a dog also makes people less vulnerable to the physical effects of stress and can encourage people to get out and about for exercise and can also help initiate interaction with other pet owners. This can be great for a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. And just as importantly, providing a suitable new home to a previously homeless animal clearly offers huge benefits for them as well!”

Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity, Mind, said: “Many people, not just those with mental health problems, find that connecting with animals or caring for a pet can have a positive impact on their wellbeing. Lots of people who experience a range of mental health problems also report that playing with an animal or taking a dog for a walk helps them switch off from everyday pressures, clear their head and relieve stress.

“Having a pet is about a relationship and, much the same as human relationships, this plays an important part in people’s lives. However, it is important to note that having a pet such as a dog is expensive and takes a lot of time and care so might not be beneficial for everyone with a mental health problem, for example, you need to be sure your home environment and personal circumstances are suitable.”

The RSPCA’s Dr Wrathall added: “Of course, owning a pet may not be suitable for everybody and it’s essential that the many responsibilities associated with taking on an animal are fully understood beforehand.

“If getting a dog isn’t right for you, then there are lots of other ways to help animals in need - and to help your mental wellbeing. People can foster an animal in order to have a companion without taking on a long-term commitment or could even volunteer at a local charity shop or animal centre.

“Whatever takes your fancy, interacting with animals can be a great way to relieve stress and get out of the house - while also helping to improve the lives of the many animals in need as well.”

Head to the RSPCA website for more information about offering a rescue dog a new home, and meet all of our dogs waiting for homes at www.rspca.org.uk/findapet.

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