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CommunityHealthMental HealthPet adoption could be the healthiest thing you do this year

Pouya Parsafar had never owned a pet before when he adopted a mixed-breed puppy, Mocha, in the summer of 2020 after moving to a Palm Jumeirah villa. “Growing up, my family and culture didn’t allow pets, so I had never experienced the value one can bring to a household,” he explains. “We moved to our villa when the pandemic struck and decided to add a puppy to the family. Mocha caught my eye, stole my...
Rebecca ReesJanuary 25, 202211 min
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petsPouya Parsafar with Mocha
Pouya Parsafar had never owned a pet before when he adopted a mixed-breed puppy, Mocha, in the summer of 2020 after moving to a Palm Jumeirah villa.
“Growing up, my family and culture didn’t allow pets, so I had never experienced the value one can bring to a household,” he explains. “We moved to our villa when the pandemic struck and decided to add a puppy to the family. Mocha caught my eye, stole my heart and very quickly became the third child in our home. In the 18 months since we’ve had her, she’s taught us unconditional love, loyalty, happiness and simplicity. She knows if one of us is anxious or upset, and just wants to make it better. She’s also ever-thankful, which some humans seem to have forgotten how to be.”

It was a similar situation for Dubai resident Florence Sanders in April 2020 when she took in Ginny, an eight-year old desert mix.

“I’d just started working from home and was scrolling through the dog rehoming websites when I came across Ginny,” she says. “She joined me, my partner and our two other dogs and fitted in perfectly. She’s now firmly part of the pack, and I can’t image our home without her now. We have even moved from an apartment to a villa with a large garden to accommodate them all!”

Assuming responsibility

pets
Florence, Josh and Ginny

While Mocha, Ginny and many others are now settled in their forever homes and enjoying the life that every domestic pet deserves, some have not been so lucky.  

Sean Parker, director at the My Second Home dog park and day care centre, says that some pets were given up for adoption — or, worse still, abandoned — by owners who left the UAE to go back to their home country.  

“There’s been a surge in fostering and adoption over the last two years, but also an increase in pets needing new homes. It’s a vicious circle. My own household went from three dogs to four when someone I knew left Dubai under traumatic circumstances and couldn’t take theirs with them. I firmly believe that if you take on a pet, you do so for life, but I also realize that there are unfortunate circumstances where this isn’t going to happen. It’s a tragedy for the pets.”

Learning how to be a pet parent

“Getting a pet is a major commitment. Owners need the financial, physical and emotional means of caring for their pet including funds for feeding, annual vaccinations, vet care and responsible, licensed care when they travel,” says Parker.

“One of the biggest mistakes owners make is isolating the dog with the human family and not responsibly exposing it to the world outside their home. Dogs are genetically engineered to interact with other canines, and this should start the moment is the dog is sufficiently covered by vaccines. The picture-perfect image of a pup frolicking through a meadow of flowers and being friendly to every human and other dog it meets can be very different in reality. Dogs may destroy furniture, show reactive behavior, bark incessantly and go to the toilet on your favorite rug. All of these issues can be resolved if owners invest in training, exercise and socialization.”

Adding up the benefits

It’s long been argued that getting a pet can be one of the best health upgrades a human can make, boosting physical fitness, improving wellbeing and creating new friendships. Research shows that being around pets can strengthen the immune system, and that people who own pets visit doctors less frequently for simple medical conditions than those who do not.

Having a pet can certainly benefit physical health and fitness,” says Carolyn Yaffe, a psychotherapist at the Medcare Camali Mental Health Clinic. “If you have a dog, walking can get or keep you in shape.  Regular dog walking can also help you to connect with other pet owners, boosting social interaction and fostering new connections, while Dubai’s growing number of dog parks and pet owners’ groups on social media provide more opportunities to connect with like-minded people.”  

Helen Najar, a therapist at the Miracles Dubai Wellbeing and Self-Empowerment Center, adds: “Anxiety and depression are experienced when our thoughts keep us living in the past or worrying about the future. Pets enable us to focus on the present and remind us to live in the moment and enjoy their unconditional love that makes us feel relaxed and happy.

“In some western cultures, pet therapy is used in nursing homes to help reduce feelings of loneliness for residents who show signs of depression and anxiety. Animals also help with learning and understanding how to build relationships. A study conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that owning a dog helped people — including children with autism — talk more clearly, feel calmer and gain confidence.”

Fostering practice

If you’re thinking of adopting, it could be the best thing you ever do for your health and wellbeing.  If you’re not ready to commit, fostering is a great way to give a pet a temporary home and find out if long-term ownership is for you. Or, join a volunteer dog walk at one of the UAE’s many animal rescue and welfare organisations such as the Stray Dogs Centre at Umm Al Quwain. 

You never know — you might just end up with a new four-legged best friend.   

Rebecca Rees

Rebecca Rees is a seasoned writer and communications expert with a penchant for good food, keeping fit, travelling the world and giving abandoned dogs a home.

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