Plus, how dogs play a meaningful role in addiction recovery.
It’s well documented that dogs promote positive mental health benefits in their owners. And that goes for people taking the path to recovery from drugs and alcohol. In fact, dogs often play a crucial role in preventing relapse.
And that’s particularly important here in Vancouver, where addictions and overdoses escalate at crisis levels. Trey Helten is the manager of Vancouver’s Overdose Prevention Society (OPS), a safe-consumption location in the downtown eastside. He devotes his life to making sure people in the throes of addiction stay stable and safe.
Not easy work, that’s for sure. But he has one superstar staff member - Zelda, his three-year-old pitbull-mastiff, who is a true canine hero.
“She has watched me since she was a puppy, doing my rounds and checking on people,” Helten told OhMyDog!. “Now she circles around on her own doing that job, like one of the staff.”
“I’ll say ‘Zelda go check on that person’, and she’ll get right in their face, cold-nose them, barking close to their face to make sure they’re OK.”
There have been a few instances where Zelda alerted people that someone was in danger of overdosing - literally saving lives.
“Yeah, she’s a hero.”
And when Zelda’s not on watch, she acts as a therapy dog by default, bringing joy to the people who visit OPS.
“People love her, she has all these friends outside of me,” Helton says.
“The loving nature of a dog can brighten spirits. Especially in a dark situation.”
Sean, a man in his mid-thirties who spent most of the year homeless, took time to talk to OhMyDog! on the Downtown Eastside. His faithful pitbull, Charlie, received endless petting at the foot of Sean’s wheelchair the whole time Sean spoke.
“I’ve been working hard to get sober and am sober now and have some housing options,” Sean told us. “Charlie totally helps me keep stable and always keeps me pushing forward.”
Of course, addiction is a complex and personal struggle. And although owning a dog cannot fight one’s addiction, dogs are proven to help keep people in recovery along a path of hope and success.
5 ways dogs help people in recovery
Dogs reduce stress and stimulate happy feelings
It’s been proven that caring for a faithful companion triggers neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which deliver positive feelings. At the same time, loving a dog can reduce cortisol levels, which calms stress. These factors give people a more positive outlook on life, away from substances.
Dogs Provide Unconditional Love
Dogs don’t judge, hold grudges, or scold. People in the throes of addiction often lose others’ trust and burn bridges. A loving pet - with-no-strings-attached - can heal that hurt and help begin rebuilding.
Dogs Help Grow Life Skills
When addiction is active, many priorities in life are ignored. Caring for a dog gives one responsibility, routine, and rewards. Daily walks, feeding, and playing can reset structure in one’s life - and that stability is key in recovery.
Dogs Bring Back Exercise
Daily exercise is crucial for everyone’s mental health, so walking a dog certainly boosts a healthy recovery. Walking a dog also encourages meeting and chatting with others - a counter to the isolation someone feels in addiction.
Dogs Help People Cope
Whether it’s the rhythmic action of petting a dog or simply getting good cuddles, negative thoughts can be kept at bay with affection. In fact, dogs bring the fun back to someone’s life - they just can’t help it!