The Blue Cross is to work with charities and the government to promote the benefits of animal ownership on mental health.
The pet charity has published a report on the role animals can play in society, and the barriers to ownership some people face.
Experts on welfare, mental health and loneliness spoke at the launch of the report, on 28 November, the aim of which was to “address how society can benefit from pet ownership and animal interactions and to call for any government to recognise the positive impact animals can have”.
The Blue Cross’s Becky Thwaites told H&H the report is a “conversation-starter”.
“We wanted to gather evidence to prove that animals really have a part to play in society,” she said.
Ms Thwaites said much of the report’s focus was on horses, such as their benefit to people suffering with mental health issues, isolation and loneliness.
“We wanted to cover the roles horses can play,” she said. “A company, Horsemanship for Health, caters mainly for ex-servicemen and women, and it’s so beneficial. One recommendation is for more research into animal-assisted therapy’s effectiveness, which conditions it improves most, and how NHS trusts can share best practice.”
Ms Thwaites also spoke of how horses can help people suffering from isolation, such as ponies’ visiting care homes, and “bringing residents together” as a result.
The Blue Cross hopes to work with other organisations and plans parliamentary receptions to help push its message.
“We’re all saying the same thing, and together, we can achieve more,” she said.
Mental health nurse Bronwen Williams, who owns horses, volunteers for an equine charity and has researched in the area, spoke at the conference.
She told H&H the report, which also focuses on removing barriers to animal ownership, was “absolutely spot-on”.
Ms Williams believes the role of animals for those with mental illness, as well as improving mental health in general, means they should be taken into account as much as family members in creating care plans or considering patients’ future.
“If the government recognises how important people’s animals are in policy, it will filter down,” she said. “Some policies allow animals to visit inpatients; not therapy ones, who are fabulous, but the everyday relationships that are so important.”
Ms Williams added that for all of us, animals provide structure, purpose and often humour, as well as socialisation and often exercise.
Blue Cross deputy CEO Steve Goody added: “It is our aim to demonstrate how important and life-enhancing pets are to people, especially those in vulnerable and challenging situations.”
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