Animals are the Answer
How Giving Back to Animals Gives Back to Dos Pueblos Students
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The 18 year old grasps the reins, leading the horses back to their stables, a riding helmet in her hand, and a sense of overwhelming fulfillment in her heart.
“Its feels really good to be selfless,” senior Chloe Cassidy, said, “Some of the kids I work with are disabled, so it’s like therapy for them, that is inspiring to see.”
HEARTS Therapeutic Equestrian Center has been hosting horse related activities for kids and adults of all ages and disabilities since 1985. Cassidy has now been volunteering at the organization for over 2 years, and does not plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I actually already have all the community service hours I need, now I do it because I love it,” Cassidy said.
Research shows that spending time with animals has lasting benefits for humans. In a study conducted by The University of Maine’s Honors College, students who interacted with pets noticed extreme shifts in their mood, and experienced reduced anxiety. Individuals tend to actually live a longer, healthier, and less stressful life when animals are involved in their day-to-day routine. This is because animals can trigger a release of serotonin, dopamine, and other hormones that serve to relax people.
Team captain at HEARTS Therapeutic Equestrian center and Dos Pueblos junior, Alanna Wong, is rewarded immensely each day she spends with the horses and riders.
“Having a strong bond with a horse, or any animal really, just makes your day a lot better,” she said, “It’s a real mood booster.”
“I think that other high school students should definitely consider volunteering at HEARTS, because it’s a great way to meet new people and get your community service hours,” Wong said. She values every aspect of the volunteer experience, but in her mind the most gratifying part is, “the pride and happiness it gives both you, and the riders. You get to help make a huge impact in their lives.”
Findings from The National Center of Health Research also propose that the social support received by animals can reduce feelings of loneliness, sometimes even more than human interaction can. Personal relationships are important; however they often cause unnecessary stress, unlike animal companionship. It is normal for any type of job, including volunteer work to be more overwhelming than it is soothing, but this is tested untrue for shelters, where the animals’ love for the staff makes every hour worth while.
Dogs and cats are commonly known to lift spirits, but the evidence goes far beyond emotional health. In a 2002 study, working with pets was proven to lower the blood pressure of those in stressful situations. Pet owners are also better performers in many cases, because the steady heart rate allows them to focus on tasks such as taking a math test, or writing an English essay.
Jeanne Saadi, the community outreach coordinator at Santa Barbara County Animal Services, knows better than anyone about how animals can improve human life. “I’ve seen first-hand the nurturing effects animals can have on people,” Saadi said, “Animals are not going to judge how you look or how you speak.”
“They don’t care if you are popular, what your GPA is, or whether or not you have a date to the prom,” Saadi said, “ I have seen awkward, socially insecure teenagers blossom into outgoing, confident individuals, because the animals they were working with at the shelter responded so well to the attention they were given.”
All volunteers can agree that their work provides an immense sense of accomplishment and an effective distraction from the stressors they may be facing outside of the shelter. “While you are volunteering, all you have to worry about is giving and receiving love and attention from the slobbery dog who thinks you’re the best person he’s ever met or that purring cat who wants nothing more than to rub it’s head against your hand, or even the rabbit who gets so comfortable in your arms it falls asleep,” Saadi said.
The rewards of working at these organizations are endless. As the DP animal lovers can attest, there is no greater feeling than coming home after a day of volunteering, knowing you made a difference in the community.
For more information on becoming an animal volunteer, contact any of the non-profit organizations listed in the sidebar or under the “Animals” category of DP’s pre-approved community service list.