I was diagnosed with severe depression at the young age of fifteen. What followed was a whirlwind of prescriptions and forced visits with psychiatrists that only left me feeling worse. The pills either had no effect, or too much of an effect, and put me at risk for serious self-harm. Along with the antidepressants came a slew of sleeping pills in an attempt to remedy my life-long insomnia, which only left me exhausted and groggy every morning. By the time the effects of them wore off, it was time for the cycle to repeat all over again. I found myself so dependent on my antidepressants that taking it three hours late left me with severe symptoms of withdrawal. I was on a quickly spiraling path of self-destruction and misery, and I couldn’t find the energy to care.

This changed when I purchased my first puppy. I settled on the name Zoey, because it meant “life”, as homage to the new life I hoped to start, and the life that she would bring me. Within the first week, I found myself more energized than I had been in four years. This miraculous transformation has managed to last for the past three months I have had her. I am by no means “cured”, but I have managed to find the will to weather through the storm. Below are just four of the many ways owning a pet has helped medicate my illness.

1. A Dependent – A pet cannot feed, walk or let themselves out on days when you just don’t feel like you can get out of bed. They depend on you to care for them, and that does not change depending on your mood. A persistent meow or an insistent paw on the side of your bed can become your sole motivation for getting yourself out of bed.

2. Exercise and Play – All pets need exercise, but puppies are particularly demanding. An unsupervised and bored puppy will find all kinds of trouble. Even just ten minutes of a vigorous game of fetch, tug-of-war, or chase will get the endorphins flowing, help you bond with your pet, and provide the exercise that they need. A daily walk will also give you motivation to get out of the house and get some fresh air. Seeing your puppy cheerful and excited to explore the world around them will also help to boost your spirits.

3. Training and Responsibility – An untrained pet can be a danger to itself and other people, as well as even more capable of making a destructive mess of your house. Teaching your pet basic obedience tricks and house training provide something to focus your mind on, and a responsibility to keep yourself on track when you find yourself slipping back into old habits of negativity.

4. Companionship and Unconditional Love – The companionship and unconditional love from a pet can most often be the best kind of medicine. A pet will never judge you for not being able to find the energy for basic hygienic practices, demand to know what is wrong with you, tell you it’s all in your head, or give you a list of misguided suggestions in an attempt to be helpful, but only end up making things worse.