Kerri-Ann Hall recently moved out on her own and decided to adopt two new furry friends to keep her company. Having a busy lifestyle led her to adopt a pet that she felt she could take care of. She got two kittens, Salem and Fluffy.
“I just like the way that they’re kind of easier to take care of than dogs… [dogs] are a lot to take care of, you have to walk them everyday… ” says Hall.
Hall says her kittens have positively influenced her life and have taught her valuable life skills.
“It’s another thing that I have to take care of, it’s kind of like a second job, they are like children,” says Hall.
Clinical psychologist Karen Lachapelle believes that animals are great for stimulating memory. She says that pets also teach people how to interact with others, noting that having to take care of an animal could help people with sociability, especially in these times of the pandemic.
Like anything in life, having an animal in your care is a ginormous responsibility, so that can be beneficial for your mental health, but it can also be extremely difficult.
“You’re having to take care of your pet… it breaks the isolation, you’re not alone,” says Lachapelle.
The manager of the Montreal SPCA, Hanna Elfassi, says that cats are popular because they can be the easiest to incorporate into home life. However, Elfassi says that it takes a great deal of responsibility even to consider bringing any new pet into a household.
“Like anything in life, having an animal in your care is a ginormous responsibility, so that can be beneficial for your mental health, but it can also be extremely difficult,” says Elfassi.
Elfassi wants people to be aware of what it takes to bring a cat into their lives. She says that she would not recommend getting a pet for the sole purpose of mental health, because some people do not understand that the work involved could bring upon more anxiety.
“We had a few people who would literally send an email or want to talk to me saying ‘I have depression, I would really like a cat to help me feel better.’ The other side is also possible: ‘Oh now that a cat is in my house I have to clean up, it’s too much anxiety, I can’t deal with the stress, I need to bring it back,’” says Elfassi.
Lachapelle believes that animals can be great companions for those who are struggling with mental health.
“I strongly believe that animals can help people with mental health… a basic point is that they provide company [and] they provide relaxation…” says Lachapelle.
Lachapelle says that there are studies that explain how petting an animal can promote relaxation. She also says that these studies come to the conclusion that professional therapy animals have a very positive effect on patients in health care facilities.
“There has been research done on that in terms of the effects of that, and it’s currently done in many long term care facilities. Dogs and cats are brought in on a regular basis,” says Lachapelle.
The SPCA once ran a campaign pointing out that cats live longer than some marriages. When marriages break apart, the separation leads the cat to go from house to house. In some other cases, return the cat back to the SPCA.
“Your cat will live longer than your marriage… usually [people] would get married for 5 years on average, so the average cat would see three [families] within its life,” says the SPCA’s Communication and developmental director Laurence Massé.
Elfassi noticed they have had an increase in people bringing their cats who have illnesses back to the SPCA. She says this often happens when people do not plan properly for veterinary costs that come with being cat owners. Cats with health or behavioural problems might in most cases require extra expenses.
“Vet care has become increasingly difficult to get access to and is also very expensive so a lot of people that have cats that have any type of behavioural or medical issues, if they don’t have enough money aside, they abandon them at the SPCA,” says Elfassi.
Besides the monetary costs that people need to provide when getting a new pet, there are also additional social costs. Some people do not know what they get into when they choose to adopt an animal.
Elfassi says that they are very selective when they go about picking a home for a new animal for the wellbeing of that animal. Especially when it comes to animals who have special needs. There is a more in depth procedure to ensure that the animal is right for the people adopting them. There is a section on the SPCA website with a separate form to fill out to adopt an animal who might have health or behavioural issues.
“This makes the job of everybody at the SPCA much more difficult to navigate because we need to find a home for this animal but an appropriate home, because not every environment is suitable for a cat, especially a cat that has special needs,” says Elfassi.
That is why Hall adopted cats and not any other kind of animal. She knew that unlike other pets like fish or other pets, cats would be well incorporated into her daily routine and suit her lifestyle. Cats were also a good financial option for her compared to adopting another type of animal.
“With dogs you have to get all the flee checks and more, with cats you just get them vaccinated, make sure they are good, clip their claws, feed them. They’re pretty chill pets, they like attention, but they also don’t like attention,” says Hall.