Benefits of Pets in Recovery

Addiction gradually makes our world shrivel and grow dim, until we find ourselves trapped in a dark, lonely cell with our substance of choice. As we begin to recover and find release from the prison of addiction, we yearn to form supportive relationships with others in the world around us.

One of the true joys of life is bonding with a member of another species, such as a rabbit, dog or turtle. Unlike people, animals do not judge us by past mistakes, what we look like or how much money we have. Animals are innocent beings that reward our care and companionship with the only payment they have to offer—unconditional love.

Sober girl with rehab dog

How Adopting a Pet Can Help You Recover from the Nightmare of Addiction

As we recover from addiction we experience various symptoms of withdrawal, some of which last for years. After acute withdrawal, these lingering withdrawal symptoms are known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). The symptoms of PAWS come and go, and can include:

  • Cravings
  • Trouble focusing or thinking
  • Reduced problem-solving skills
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Inability to cope with stress

Bonding with an animal can have a therapeutic, calming effect. Studies have shown that interacting with an animal for just a few minutes can reduce your level of cortisol, a stress-producing hormone.

Another huge benefit of adopting a pet in recovery is we learn to care for another being—one who is totally dependent on us to meet his or her needs. The daily responsibility of caring for an innocent, loving being helps us to step outside of ourselves and think of others first, which in turn aids our recovery from addiction.

Also, there’s probably no greater joy in life than arriving home after a stressful day and being greeted by your beloved pet that treats you like you’re the most wonderful person in the entire world! Animals have a way of showing love that is emotionally healing. Receiving unconditional love from an innocent being helps us learn to love and value ourselves again.

A Loving Relationship with Your Pet Gives You Stability in a Chaotic World

Even the most loving relationships with people can include disagreements, power struggles, and betrayal. Relationships with pets are generally stable. The worst you can expect from your animal friend is maybe an occasional political statement, such as pooping on your favorite throw-rug if you don’t take him on a walk or change her litter-box. You just take your animal out or clean the box and wash the rug. Then the problem is solved! Your pet will not hold a grudge against you for making an occasional mistake.

Conversely, you shouldn’t hold it against your friend if he or she occasionally does something naughty, such as getting into the garbage or grabbing the end of the toilet paper roll to unravel it around the house. Pets are like children—mischievous, curious and playful. Usually, a non-violent disciplinary technique such as a quick spray in the face with a water bottle while saying “no” will teach your pet not to do that again.

New Friends in Sobriety: Meeting Other Pet-Lovers

In sobriety there are many places to meet new people, but there’s probably no better group to form new friendships with than other animal lovers. People who love animals are, generally speaking, some of the healthiest, most interesting folks out there.

Animal-lovers are everywhere and they’ll stop what they’re doing to ask you about your pet. You can meet them on walks, at the dog park, or while you’re in the yard playing with your animal friend and they stop to ask if they can pet your rabbit or turtle.

Your Pet Can Help You Avoid the Wrong People and Let Others Know if You’re in Danger

A good way to tell if somebody is not safe to be around is if your pet does not like him or her. Animals sense evil in humans. It’s likely a survival instinct which they’ve developed and honed over millennia of living in a world controlled by our species. Even if another person pretends to be kind, an animal can sense what they’re really like.

True Crime writer Ann Rule wrote about this phenomenon in her book “The Stranger Beside Me,” a memoir of her friendship with serial killer Ted Bundy. She recounted how likeable and considerate Ted was when she worked beside him in the Seattle suicide hotline. However, when she brought her dog to work with her one night she was baffled by her pet’s aversion to Bundy. Her dog wasn’t fooled one bit by Ted Bundy’s camouflage of congeniality and charm. During this time while Ted worked the suicide hotline next to Ann, he was also capturing and killing young women. He was so skilled at hiding his true nature that Ann Rule couldn’t quite believe he was guilty of these horrific crimes until years after he’d been arrested.

Dean Koontz also recounted his experience of an animal’s ability to sense the presence of evil in the book her wrote about his beloved dog Trixie, “A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog.” Trixie was terrified of one of Dean’s friends, even wetting on the floor when he first brought the guy around. It turned out that this person was a sociopath who had targeted Dean for money.

A pet will alert you if somebody is trespassing on your premises. Especially dogs make excellent burglar alarms because they bark loud and they’re territorial.

Pets have been known to alert others when their owner-parent is in danger, for instance if their owner has had a heart attack or some kind of physical emergency the animal finds a sometimes ingenious way to help. There are many stories where an animal—even a pig or a goat—saved their loved one’s life or the life of a stranger.

What if I Relapse After I Adopt a Pet?

No matter whether you already had a pet when you started using, adopted a pet during your addiction, or relapsed after you’ve acquired a pet your pet will be there for you while you recover. There are many lessons we can learn from other species, and maybe one of the most important ones is the healing power of unconditional love. Animals are non-judgmental—they live in the present moment and forgive easily. You could make it your goal in recovery to earn your pet’s trust back. You won’t have to earn back their love because that love is unconditional.

No matter how many years of sobriety a person has, addiction is a chronic disease and there’s always a possibility of relapse. If you relapse it’s a given that, while you’re using, you won’t be capable of caring for yourself or your pet in the best way. Moreover, animals are scared of people when they’re impaired by mind-altering substances such as alcohol. This shouldn’t surprise us since animals share many emotional characteristics with humans and sober people are scared of impaired people too. However, unlike most other people, your pet cannot simply choose to stay away from you while you’re intoxicated.

The realization of just how frightened and sad your pet is while you’re addiction-impaired is a huge motivation to seek help. The good news is there are many rehab centers that now accept pets along with their owners.

Addiction recovery professionals understand how beneficial a loving relationship with a pet can be for somebody in recovery. Moreover, they understand that allowing people to bring their pets into the recovery center could make a difference in the addict staying to complete the program as opposed to making other arrangements to house the pet and then leaving due to missing their beloved companion. The presence of a beloved pet is a constant reminder and motivation to seek sobriety and recovery at all costs.

What are the Benefits of Bringing My Pet to Rehab?

Many rehab centers understand how stressful the early days of recovery can be, and how strange and frightening it is to go to an inpatient rehab. You don’t know what to expect from the program, the staff and the other residents. By bringing your beloved pet along, you don’t have to face a strange new environment alone. Your pet will be with you to offer comfort and companionship—bringing a buddy to a strange new place can help you to feel more comfortable and less scared.

Numerous studies have shown that interacting with animals can be hugely beneficial to reduce stress. Rehab centers allow you to bring your pet along for companionship, therapeutic effects associated with interacting with and nurturing a pet, and stress reduction.

Caring for a pet requires you to focus on the needs of another. This shift in focus can invite you to be more focused on your environment and others around you. Also, your pet’s presence is a great ice-breaker which can lead to your forming friendships with other patients who are animal lovers. These other patients can benefit from your pet’s being there too.

Bringing My Pet With to Rehab: What Are the Requirements?

Many rehabs tailor the requirements to a case-by-case screening, where they assess what kind of pet you have, what your diagnosis is, and what would be feasible for the facility and most helpful to you.

All rehabs will require you to be up-to-date with your pet’s vaccinations. You’ll likely be required to stay in a single-occupancy room or suite. Also, you’ll probably be asked to bring your pet’s food and other supplies along or make arrangements to have these supplies delivered during your stay.

You may need to leave your pet in the room you occupy for some groups and activities. Some rehabs require you to hire an outside contractor to care for your pet during the day. Some charge an extra fee to bring your pet, similar to paying pet-rent in an apartment complex.

Whatever the requirements, it’s well worth the effort to bring your pet with you as you begin your journey of recovery. Your beloved animal friend will continue to give you unconditional love, companionship, and a very good reason to stay sober and healthy as you navigate the rehab program.

For more information on which rehab centers allow you to bring your pet, google ‘pet friendly rehab.’ Each program has its own requirements which you can learn about via chat or a phone call to the rehab center.