Recovering addicts find allies in animals, study finds

A national study found 70 per cent of recovering addicts benefited from interacting with therapy animals.

'Animals don’t judge,' says University of Saskatchewan health researcher

U of S researcher Colleen Dell and therapy dog Soobie have a long history together helping others. (CBC)

The majority of recovering addicts who were part of a recent study found therapy animals to be a comfort and an important ally.

The national study led by Colleen Dell, a health researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, measured the potential benefits of using therapy animals to help people trying to fight addictions to alcohol or drugs. The work brought therapy animals into treatment centres — even into a methadone maintenance program.

Animals don't judge. You don't have to worry about anything.- Colleen Dell, University of Saskatchewan

"On one hand, I was a little bit surprised. On the other one, I thought, 'No, not at all because this is exactly what people talk about. It's what I see in the field every day,'" said Dell.

She added that time with animals reduces your stress hormones and increases your oxytocin, which makes you feel good.

"Animals don't judge. You don't have to worry about anything. They are a safe place to speak and to share your feelings."

Pets offer a safe outlet

The sort of everyday success stories that Dell sees are just as dramatic as the results found in the study with recovering addicts. Dell brought therapy dog Soobie with her to the CBC studios and recalled a time when the dog helped a young mom struggling to come to terms with a terrible loss. 

"She started to talk about grief, which is a really big thing in the loss of her baby, and who is she speaking to? She's not telling me, right; she's telling Soobie."

The research done by the University of Saskatchewan backs up the findings of similar studies in other parts of the world, like the U.S. and the UK.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning