Pets and the Effects they have on Student Mental Health

James Graham, Staffer

There are many ways that pets can help boost a person’s mental health, including increasing physical activity, giving companionship, and reducing anxiety, according to the Mental Health Foundation. People who have owned a pet, like junior Sarach Gallart, know what the benefits of owning a pet are, such as improving one’s immunity to various diseases.

“I have had 2 pets,” Gallart said. “The first one is Mela. She is a 9 year old shih tzu. I have always been a sick kid. I struggled with my health, and one of the things I’ve believed about dogs from what I’ve heard is that they are really good for one’s immune system, and I have an autoimmune disorder, so it was a great idea for us to get a dog.”

Having Mela has helped Gallart feel better on many occasions, according to Gallart. She said that dogs can feel when someone is upset and are there to provide comfort.

“Whenever I got sick, she would be there, and I would hug her,” Gallart said. “Whenever I feel sick, she comes to me, and I feel like she can detect when I’m feeling down or sick, and well I always tend to feel better soon.”

Lead Counselor Carole McPherson had a registered therapy dog named Scout who she would bring to school to comfort students. Before being a part of LASA, Scout was a therapy dog in nursing homes.

“I got Scout, and she was a Golden Retriever,” McPherson said. “She just had a demeanor of always loving, super sweet, always loving, [and] always pretty calm. Most retrievers sometimes aren’t as calm, but she was super, super calm and pretty much her whole life. [I] went through therapy training with her when she was about 10, so she was older than normal, and she did therapy from the time she was about 10 until she was 12 and a half. She went to nursing homes with me and went to children’s hospitals. And we came to school, so she was able to come and meet all the kids at school.”

According to McPherson, Scout had a big effect on her mental health, but McPherson also noted how students connected to Scout as well. She said Scout seemed in tune with students when they were experiencing mental health problems. 

“We would walk through the halls, and everybody would be so excited to see her, everyone wanted to pet her,” McPherson said. “But also, when we were in counseling sessions with students, she could tell if someone was crying, she would get up from where she was, she’d walk over and she put her head … on them, and she could tell that there was something not right. … She just had a sense of doing that. So I think kids and also students would tell me about ‘oh, my pet does this, or oh, that my pet means this to me.’ So from my point of view, pets are important to a lot of us, but from where I stand, Scout has a direct impact on our students.”

In addition to comforting students when they are depressed or anxious, McPherson also observed how pets can provide motivation for students. Scout gave students the time and space to be calm, according to McPherson.

“The motivation that I would see is that maybe students are like, ‘I really want to be able to walk with my dog today, but I gotta get my homework done first,’ so maybe that can be motivation,’” McPherson said. “That can be a point of motivation of ‘let me get this done so that I can take care of this animal’, but also,  when Scout was here with students, she would help them by getting them to a calm place, to where then they could go, and instead of being heightened and sad, she would calm them down and then get them to a place where they could go to class.”

Having a connection with pets is proven to have beneficial effects on mental health. Ignoring pets can have the opposite effect, according to Gallart.

“Right about 7th grade I went to a magnet middle school, so I felt I was always busy with school work or just feeling tired,” Gallart said. “I started unfortunately paying less attention to Mela around the time my sister was born, and I think because of that we  lost the connection for a while. I know those were the times I struggled more with my mental and physical health. I regretted it because I feel if I was closer to her she would have been a comfort to me.”

Academic Counselor Shannon Cardona also noticed how pets helped her be more in tune with the needs of not just her pets but also the people around her. Pets can be more than comfort; they can also teach understanding of non verbal communication, according to Cardona.

“[Having pets] has taught me how to be more caring, more empathetic, more responsible, more loving,” Cardona said. “It’s taught me boundaries and a whole different level of respect. It’s taught me how to care for someone that probably couldn’t care for themselves as much. I feel like it’s taught me more interpersonal skills than I could have learned by others, because I learned from somebody who wasn’t vocal enough to talk to me or tell me what they needed, so I was always trying to figure out if they’re okay, what does the crying mean, or how I can comfort them.”

Gallart agreed that pets can greatly benefit peoples’, especially students’ mental health through many different methods, including boosting a person’s happiness or giving motivation. Gallart said having a pet got her through tough times.

“I feel that I had that only child loneliness, and it was just very helpful having a dog to play with and talk to even if they can’t talk to you back,” Gallart said. “I had a really positive experience with my dog. She is such a comfort. I know that dogs just always make you happy.”


JC Ramirez Delgadillo contributed to this article.