Every dog owner thinks their dog is the best, and everybody is right.
I founded James & Ella, a happiness and wellbeing company for dogs, as a way of giving back to my dogs that have done so much for me. Ella, my eldest black cocker spaniel, is the namesake of our company. She is my teacher, therapist and best friend. I wanted to share my story with you; about my mental health and the emotional support I received from my dogs.
“A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad.” – Robert Wagner
I’ve found it important to talk about my mental health problems throughout my life. I want anyone with similar issues to know they aren’t alone. No matter your background, religion or race; mental health can affect you, regardless of your privilege.
Dogs have always been there for me throughout my struggles in life with depression and loneliness. My family dog, Tilly, was the first one I went to when I had problems at school. Looking back on it now, I can see how much she helped me.
For me there was a breaking point; a time in 2017 where the stress and anxiety became overwhelming. I packed up my car and took myself and my dogs to the Lake District. We swam in the icy lakes and walked along snow-capped mountain peaks. I realised I couldn’t cope anymore, but with that recognition came calm, in knowing that I needed help.
“You can tell by the kindness of a dog how a human should be.” – Captain Beefheart
Ella came to every single one of my therapy sessions. I’d make excuses not to go, if Ella couldn’t be there with me. Just being by my side, she was helping me tremendously and had an immense positive impact. It’s not always been easy for me to talk about my struggles with anxiety and depression, but Ella has been the one to encourage me to get the help I needed.
Ella is the first dog I got as an adult. She is the matriarch of my pack and the one who has been there to help and guide me through a large portion of my adult life. I owe a lot to Ella and I believe she is a large reason I was able to overcome the deep struggles I have had with my mental illnesses. She is truly my inspiration and the inspiration behind James & Ella.
“When the dog looks at you, the dog is not thinking what kind of a person you are. The dog is not judging you.” – Eckhart Tolle
Research shows that just five minutes of petting a dog can help lower the levels of the hormone that is responsible for stress. That’s why I believe mental health and dogs are inherently linked. It’s the main reason why I have registered Ella as a therapy dog.
In 2018 I became involved with Pets as Therapy and Ella became a recognised Therapy dog; the following year, Mabel joined too. Ella and Mabel visit hospitals, nursing homes and hospices with me, and their joy brings me and others joy as well.
A dog won’t cure your mental health condition, that’s a missguided thought. But they are the perfect listeners; they can reduce stress, blood pressure, and help ease loneliness.
There are so many benefits to being a dog owner. Being able to see and appreciate a dog’s excitement over the little things, being happy with what you have and not chasing tomorrow, but making the most of today. These are the things we can learn from dogs.
The world is simply a friendlier place with dogs. They make life less complicated.
How can I give my dogs the best life?
We need to remember what we can do for our dogs in return, to give them the best quality of life.
This is why I started to research more, in order to feed them the best possible diet. It really was the driving force behind founding James & Ella. Our dogs are reliant on us for so much, especially their food. It’s only fair we give them the best we can.
I am sharing this story now, at a point where I have a new zest for life. I have a new sense of purpose, which Ella and the pack have been key in contributing to.
I encourage anyone who is struggling to speak out, to share and talk in any way they can, even if it is just to their dog. Tackling the stigma associated with mental health will come if we have the courage to share. It’s okay not to be okay.