Oftentimes people think of parents, children, friends, and employers as the main ones being affected by the person with alcoholism or substance abuse, but they are not the only ones. Let’s not forget the furry, fluffy, fun-loving additions to our lives we call pets (or as some refer to them, children). These are the family members that are right by our sides no matter what; always ready for an adventure and an adventure for them is simply a waltz around the neighborhood. I’m sure many of us watched last year’s Budweiser commercial, the one where the owner gets too intoxicated to drive and stays out all night to avoid drinking and driving because “you have someone waiting for you at home,” but the commercial highlights another dark aspect of addiction: pets being neglected.
How many times did pets wait to be let outside or to be fed while the owner lay passed out on the couch due to intoxication? Pets can be the best companions; they may not talk, but they sure notice everything, which means they know when something’s wrong with their master. Equine-assisted therapy has become an ever-growing field because of the success it has had; because animals read us in a way that people do not. A person in active addiction has a skill set of manipulation that not many others can mimic, but even they can’t convince an animal. The difference is that an animal, such as a horse in particular, notices body language like eye contact and affect and words no longer have any power. Animals care about the way a person stands, the lack of eye contact, or the timidity they may have; those are the things that all speak to an animal, words do not.
I was amazed because when Simon was a puppy we bonded so well; he slept next to my head on my pillow and followed me around everywhere, but once I started heavily into my addiction, our relationship changed. It seemed like he became more distant, but I think that’s because he knew his owner wasn’t the same. This owner remained only a shell of who he once knew.
I remember when I first got sober, the relationship I had with Simon changed. I didn’t consciously do anything differently, but my pet could tell. He noticed I had more patience, that I actually paid attention to his needs, and that I cared about his wellbeing (which meant more car rides and beach walks for him). Sobriety affects every living creature we come into contact with, whether we realize it not, they always do.
Today, over four years after beginning my sobriety journey, my pet and I are closer than ever. He can’t wait to see me when I get home and vice versa. He knows I’m dependable and won’t ever leave him wondering when I’ll be back because I have a schedule that provides consistency. I can’t fully describe the difference in him with words, but I know that he understands his owner is back and is no longer the empty shell he once encountered.
About the Author
Ashley is the Aftercare Coordinator for Lakeview Health. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of North Florida in Psychology with a double minor in English and Spanish. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of North Florida. She has over two years of experience in addiction and mental health treatment. Ashley is also a person in long-term recovery; her sobriety date is January 13, 2012. She joined Lakeview Health in 2014 as the Aftercare Coordinator. Ashley has experience in working at both adult and adolescent inpatient treatment facilities. She enjoys inspiring other young people to live sober, fulfilling, happy lives.
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