Animal programs

The New Abandoned Pet and Youth Mental Health Support Program

Our pets and even the creatures we have fleeting encounters with tend to sense when something is wrong.
dogs capable of before they get to studies showing that horses can hear your heart rate from
But can we reciprocate by helping animals and humans heal each other?
Every day, the RSPCA Animal Shelter in Yagoona sees dozens of dogs, cats and other animals that have been abandoned.
Some are not in their best shape when they arrive. Some suffer from anxiety. Others didn’t have the best education.
That’s where the PetSpace program comes in – it’s a different type of group therapy session.

Stephanie Sok is head of education at the RSPCA NSW and explains the positive effects of bringing together humans and animals who may have mental health issues.

“So the PetSpace program is a partnership between the RSPCA NSW and Headspace and it’s a six-week program designed for young people who are already interested in animals, but also young people who might just be going through a myriad of health issues. mental,” Stephanie told The Feed.
“Through their connection and interest in animals, we teach participants how to care for animals.”
Daniel Angus is a psychologist at Headspace and says it’s well documented that animals can have a positive effect on humans.

“I think there’s just something magical, something special about this connection between humans and animals that is really about reducing stress, lowering your blood pressure, increasing your movement and exercise, and reduce feelings of loneliness.”


Headspace has already had 160 young clients through the course with encouraging results.
“We did mental health testing before and after and saw a 30% reduction in causes of mental health distress after the program. Whether this is attributable to bonding with the animals, as well as the social bonds they made by getting out of the house and being active, we’re not sure. But clearly, it had a really significant impact.
The RSPCA noted that the positive result actually went both ways.
“Some of the animals we care for just need a little human companionship. They just need someone who is patient and can understand their animals’ needs. Stephanie Sok says,

“Just by providing that patience and positive interaction, we’ve definitely seen the animals improve.”

Woman hugging a dog

The program has inspired some young people to find employment adopting and caring for an animal. Source: RF Moment / Carol Yepes/Getty Images

The experience has also inspired a number of people enrolled in the program to later find employment so they can adopt and care for an animal.

“We spend a lot of time in the past and we spend a lot of time in the future, but for some reason we don’t spend a lot of time in the present moment. And, you know, our pets, they love to be in the present moment with us. Daniel Angus says,
“And I think that really contributes significantly to a reduction in cortisol (the body’s main stress hormone) internally.”

The hope here is that similar pet programs can be rolled out to help people across Australia who are trying to improve their own mental health.