The strong bond between dogs and people can mean a huge difference for people with mental disorders. Kari Mette Bergendahl has experienced this several times at first hand.
Her miniature American shepherd, Jack is a visiting dog in kindergartens and senior centers. Kari Mette is also working as an emergency foster home, a foster care that takes in children and youth at a short notice in emergency situations.
- As an emergency foster home we often meet children who are in need of some extra love and contact. There dogs do an important work. While children often refuse to open up to adults, they are often able to sit down and talk intimately with the dogs.
The dog is a faithful and empathetic listener who does not gossip, and who actively responds to the feelings we express. It is scientifically proven that having a closeby can help to reduce stress, loneliness and depression.
Physical activity and feeling successful
As a dog owner we are encouraged to do physical activity, which again can have a positive effect on the mental health. Even though one has a bad day it is hard to withstand a dog`s eagerness and happiness to work!
Jack is an active agility dog who is competing in the highest class, in addition to being an approved search dog. He is happy to make the kids active in Kari Mette’s emergency foster home. By succeeding together with the dog the kids build confidence and a feeling of success, things they might not have experienced before.
-We had a 12-year old boy, who we were told had problems to concentrate and did not enjoy being in big crowds. He was living with us for only 4 weeks when he entered his first agility competition and won! He remembered the course with 17 obstacles without a single problem.
We have talked with professor Gail Melson about how dogs affect children in this podcast episode.
In the same episode we spoke with Claudia Zenner about / the positive effects her daughter has experienced by being active together with the family`s dog.
-The reason I have included dogs in my job is because children with different difficulties, either physical or mental, become unbelievably happy when they get to connect with the dogs. Jack has made many good relationships with children who are a bit outside of society. He is looking for the ones that need a bit of extra support and contact, says Kari Mette
A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.
Personally, she could never choose a life without a dog.
- I can live without people around me, but not without a dog. For me dogs are important and good friends to have by my side every single day! They make me go on nice hikes and lay right next to me on the sofa, always keeping me company.
Visiting the sick and elderly
She wants the sick and elderly to also experience these close and good moments. Therefore Kari Mette is on the way to get Jack approved as a visiting dog for Red Cross.
- I had both mother- and father in-law in a nursing home. Since both of them had a good relationship with the dogs it was natural to take them with me on each and every visit. The dogs got loads of attention from the other residents too. We gladly took an additional round so that everybody who wanted could give a treat to them or just cuddle with a furry friend. It was very touching to see many of the elderly who would usually just sit in their chairs lit up when the dogs came to visit.
Even though Kari Mette`s parents in law passed, she wants to continue to spread joy.
Today there are around 600 visiting volunteers with dogs in Norway, who cheer up people that seek more social contact with others.
Live in the moment
A good trait dogs have is to live in the moment. They don`t let thoughts and worried of the future or past effect their mood.
Let yourself inspired by this the next time you go hiking together!