By Emily Parker

Maybe you’ve been where I’m about to describe. You start out on top, doing all around great, and then life happens. And boy, did it happen. My roommate and I had a fallout that led to her leaving, which meant I might have to sell my future first-born child to pay rent. But there might never be said child because my boyfriend and I split. The job situation … got iffy. My parents started having problems. Although these weren’t uncommon things to happen, having these serious of events happen back to back left me reeling. I retreated to bed for long stretches of time, sinking lower and lower into an ugly depression until I barely left the apartment except for work. And there I might have stayed, sad and stuck, had it not been for Louis’s appearance in my life.

Coming home from work, sunk in my usual misery, I passed a lady with a box full of fluffy kittens crawling all over each other. One of them stood on his hind legs at the edge of the box and called my name very loudly, accompanied by the waving of a tiny peremptory paw. “You. You belong to me,” he informed me. “Come here, human!” Five minutes later, I was on my way once again with a small black critter, his wide eyes roaming every which way from inside my jacket, where I tucked him. I assumed I would head straight to bed, per the norm, but then it occurred to me that I needed … food. Litter. Toys. Maybe a cat bed? Did he need a vet checkup? Was he even a he? I didn’t know the first thing about cats, except that this little guy had made me smile for the first time in months and kept making me smile every time he batted at my hair with an inquisitive paw or stuck his nose in my ear.

As I walked into the apartment building, a neighbor glanced at me from the mailboxes, curious about the cheerful yowls coming from inside my clothing. She started asking me questions then insisted I come over to her place and get some cans of kitten food, let Louis play with her own kitten, and just … talk.

Talk? Hadn’t done that in a while.

But that’s where Louis led me, out of bed and into my neighbor’s apartment, helping bring me back to life after the dark spell. I had to get up now for more reasons than work because he wanted to play; he needed his litter changed; he had to eat. Plenty of times when I was trying to wallow in misery, he pounced all over me, batting, nibbling, meowing, head-butting, purring, just overall demanding that I rise and attend to his small, adorable majesty. I had to leave the apartment more and more often for supplies—or for damage repair when he destroyed curtains and pillowcases—and vet visits. My neighbor, Molly, a cat veteran, became a good friend. She brought other people into my life who also owned cats and had advice to offer and cups of coffee to share.

Ultimately, Louis’s arrival made me realize that the world wasn’t quite such a dark place. There were really good things in it even beyond the soft, warm little creature who climbed on my chest in the early hours of the morning and purred happily. Over time, my furry therapist helped me reconnect with all the good parts of life that I had forgotten existed. At some point, I was hanging out with my new friends, human and four-legged, and we got to talking about how good pets are for us in so many ways. That evening, I randomly started Googling and discovered all manner of interesting facts. Turns out, cats, and pets in general, are scientifically proven to be good for our mental health.

BMC Psychiatry, a leading peer-reviewed journal, studied the effects of pets on people with clinically diagnosed long-term mental health problems. The 2016 study concluded that “Pets should be considered a main rather than a marginal source of support in the management of long-term mental health problems, and this has implications for the planning and delivery of mental health services.” Pets help anxious people for friendly social networks. They lessen loneliness with the companionship their presence automatically provides. In unscientific terms, they help with depression by making us laugh and smile. It’s hard to stay sad when a tiny cat not-so-subtly tries to scooch your head off the pillow by pushing and shoving with his little bitty furry backside, determined that he shall claim the prime real estate space!

There are documented biological reasons for why pet therapy is so effective. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has supported extensive scientific studies into the connection between pets and humans. They’ve discovered that spending time with pets releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, and lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Children with autism, for instance, show increased social awareness and interaction after spending time with pets. Alzheimer’s patients who spend time with pets show signs of improved mental acuity, communication skills, and overall mood. Another study by the journal Frontiers in Psychology investigated how pets help improve people’s immune systems and are even a form of pain management. (Think of all the times you’ve felt sick and your kitty has playfully pounced over, making you feel immediately better!)

After learning all this, and having seen firsthand myself how helpful pets are when it comes to depression, I decided that I wanted to start a website, www.catological.com, about cats. Cats help us so much; I wanted the website to be about how people can help their cats. The more you understand your cat, the better you can care for it. Given all animals do for us, it’s only fair that we reciprocate in kind! One of the blog posts I wrote was 22 Ways Cats Make People Happier and Healthier. The post summarizes further research and provides an infographic that details even more specific ways pets are great for us.

All told, there is endless evidence that pets are wonderful for our mental health. They’re just so wonderful to be around—how could they not be? Louis continues to cheer me up anytime I have a blue day by stealing my socks, sneak-attacking me when I sit down on the couch and doing BASE jumps from his cat tower onto my bed. If you don’t have a cat, I suggest you spend some time with one, especially if you’re considering buying one. Volunteer at a pet shelter or babysit for a friend’s cat, for instance. Take the time to research everything cats need to stay healthy and happy and make sure that you’re able to provide them with more than just their most basic needs. If you do get a cat and give it all the love and care it needs and deserves, you’re guaranteed to reap all kinds of benefits, not the least of which is all the fun you’ll have with your new kitty!

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