The Cats Who Saved My Life

A Supplemental Alternative Treatment for Depression

Kittens give Joy therapy. Mary K Baird / Morguefile

Many animal lovers with bipolar disorder have found that during times when talking and relating to other human beings seems an insurmountable challenge, their pets' companionship often serves as a lifeline. However, pets can do more than just provide sympathy and company to a person suffering from depression or a depressive phase of bipolar disorder: they can provide a powerful reason for living and a means to gradually work one's way back into the company of other people.

I have always had cats and assorted other animals, but in the midst of a severe depressive episode it is easy to take their company and compassion for granted. The difference for me, over the past six months or so, is that I have become active with an animal rescue organization and began serving as a feline foster parent. There are animal rescue organizations across the country and around the world. They need volunteers to help with adoption days, clean out the cages of cats and dogs left on display at pet stores, answer phones, and serve as foster parents. If you live in the United States, an easy way to become involved is to go to your local PetSmart and find out which local animal rescue organization that store works with.

Somehow, whenever life's challenges have been at their worst, I have ended up with a new foster cat or kitten. That always takes my focus off of myself and my own problems and forces me to focus on making sure my new foster cat has a kind of food that he or she likes, has a safe place to sleep, gets plenty of affection, and is gradually introduced to my own cats.

Most people think the hardest part of being a foster parent is letting the animal go when they are ready to be adopted, but that has never been a problem for me. I receive a new cat or kitten, thoroughly enjoy playing and loving with it for a few weeks, and about the time that it is starting to develop some very annoying habits, it's off for adoption and no longer my responsibility.

One of the things I love most about being a foster parent is that you get to relive all the excitement and joy of having a new cat or kitten every time you get a new foster.

Now I won't lie and say that I have no mood swings just because I am a foster parent. However, it is nigh near impossible for suicidal thoughts to have any grip on my mind while I am gazing into the adoring eyes of a tiny kitten who is curled up in my arms, convinced that I am her mommy.

As I have become more active in my animal rescue organization and am beginning to volunteer for more duties, such as helping with adoption days, I am meeting more and more people who are friendly, fun to talk with and fellow animal lovers by nature. The volunteer work provides a great way for a depressed, shy person to slowly work her way back into interacting with other people and picking up simple but real responsibilities.

I know that one concern many people with bipolar have is money, as many of us struggle to pay our basic living expenses, plus doctor, therapist and medication fees and, for some, debts incurred while manic. So you may be asking how I can possibly afford to pay for another animal. Well, for one thing, feeding one more cat or dog is a whole lot cheaper than trying to pay for another psychiatric hospitalization!

But to put things in more practical terms, my animal rescue organization pays for all flea medicine (which typically runs about $20 a month per animal) and all regular vaccinations for both foster cats and my own cats, because mine are living in the same house as foster cats. Plus the rescue organization pays for all the foster cats' medical expenses, plus expenses for any illness or injury that my cats should acquire from a foster cat. The organization I work with even provides food and litter for foster cats. So the only thing I am really required to provide for my foster cats is a warm, safe, loving environment.

So in the end, getting involved in your local animal rescue organization:

  • will help save the lives of precious cats and dogs
  • will help you stay focused on a little furry creature who needs you
  • will help you slowly get involved with other people again, and in the end
  • will actually save you a great deal of money on veterinary expenses for any animals that you already own.

So where is the catch in all this? There isn't one. Thus, unless you absolutely hate animals, I greatly encourage you to reach out to your own community and get involved in animal rescue. It offers a reason to get up in the morning, a purpose in life, a meaningful volunteer job (whether you have another job or not), and a chance to make a difference in the world, one life at a time.

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