Findsay exudes calm.
He curls up, an enormous lump of black fur and patience, at the feet of the woman who looks after him.
Findsay is a guide dog in training.
He's the seventh dog the lady next door has trained in this way. She takes puppies at eight weeks old and passes them on to the guide dog specialist trainers at eighteen months. Finsay the black labrador is one year now and has six months left to go with her.
She looks at him with fondness. "He's such a calm dog," she says. "Nothing ever bothers him. And he's a big dog too. He will be brilliant for someone who has anxiety or depression."
Many guide dogs serve a joint purpose. Their primary purpose is to help their owners navigate a world that is primarily organised for the sighted, but they also act as therapy dogs. A dog has to be fed and walked every day. That routine gives a purpose, a pattern and gets the dog's owner out into the fresh air taking some exercise. We know that all these things are beneficial to people suffering from depression.
The routine of caring for any animal gives purpose. A friend tells me how helpful her hens are when she's going through her dark times. She has to get up to feed them and collect the eggs. Just performing that routine steadies her and at least gets her out of bed and relating to something in the world – even if she cannot, in those periods, cope with people.
My fellow bloggers have also written about the support they get from their cats. I am seeing it at the moment. A family member is not well and I am caring for her. One of our cats sleeps with her all day and all night. He leaves her side only at meal times and for toilet breaks. I know that he is doing her more good with his undemanding presence than I can imagine. He cannot cook for her, or talk to her when she needs to talk; for that she needs a human, but his furry presence is invaluable.
Mammals seem to be best at therapy; dogs and cats especially as they love you back. While my daughter's guinea pigs are very cute and cuddly, I'm not quite sure if they engage with me or her in the way our cats do. The stick insect (more of a log insect now it is eight inches long) is interesting and rather sweet, if you're into six legs, wavy antennae and the sting of sharply hooked feet as it walks over your skin; not everybody is. And my son keeps snakes…. No – I'm not going to talk about the snakes.
For those of us allergic to fur and unenthusiastic about insects or reptiles there's always fish. Beautiful and calming to watch; definitely therapeutic.
But not cuddly – the film Finding Dory notwithstanding.
I'll stick with my cats, thank you.
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