5 ways to spend time with animals and boost your mood
I mean … what can’t animals do? Turns out they’re basically vital for our mental health.
Whether it’s for someone struggling with depression and low mood, or a sense of loneliness in later life, owning a pet can be a great source of calm and companionship – with dogs, in particular, providing great encouragement to get outside and socialise. They’re also a great source of sensory stimulation and social connection for children with autism, whilst also giving young people with ADHD a sense of routine and responsibility.
Making us feel less stressed, encouraging exercise and playfulness, and even improving our cardiovascular health – it almost feels like animals need to be prescribed for us all? But until that happens, we’ve found a great selection of alternative ways you can reap the benefits of animal cuddles, if like so many of us, the practicalities surrounding renting and working hours aren’t conducive to giving a furry friend the life they truly deserve.
1) Meet your canine match on Borrow My Doggy
Forget all the other social media sites – this is the only one you’ll ever need from now on. Aiming to connect dog-owners with dog-lovers, Borrow My Doggy gives the canine-less amongst us the chance to essentially babysit a four-legged friend.
Costing just £1 a month, create your profile, browse through the profiles of dog owners seeking companionship for their canine, get your details verified by the Borrow My Doggy team, and then get busy messaging.
From going on the odd walk to having a pooch for a weekend sleepover whilst their owner is away, you’ll get all the benefits of having a pet – without the responsibility of ownership.
2) Feel like Old MacDonald at Belmont Farm
The only public farm of its size within the M25, the team at Belmont Farm are keen to educate the community about life on a working farm, and so visitors always get a real, hands-on experience, with plenty of chances to learn about, and play with, the many animals. Dose up on cuddles at one of the ‘Meet The Small Animals’ sessions held throughout the day, where you’ll get the opportunity to handle the fluffy little rabbits, guinea pigs and rats.
If you’re more keen to just wander around the enclosures at your own pace, then be sure to buy a bag of feed from reception so the animals can graze out of your hand, or take one of the hourly tractor and trailer rides around the fields to get a drive-by view of the farm in action.
3) Head for High Tea at Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium
A Shoreditch haven for both cake and cat lovers alike, the famous Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium opened its doors in 2014, and holds the title of the UK’s longest-running cat cafe. Boasting a Wonderland themed spread of tea rooms complete with ladders, tree-top runs, and plenty of padded, feline-friendly nooks and crannies to snuggle down in, the cafe is currently home to 13 rescue cats – many of whom have come from troubled backgrounds, and therefore wholeheartedly lap up any strokes and attention from cat-loving guests.
You can book your 90-minute slot on the website, as well as select the sort of booking you would like to make – Standard Entry, High Tea with Cats, or the quieter Soothing Sundays sessions, where only half as many guests are admitted. With gluten-free and vegan catering, soft paws and sweet purring can be enjoyed by all – no matter your dietary requirements. Cats don’t discriminate!
4) Feed the residents at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats
Although it’s a little bit outside of London, Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent is the only registered charity in the UK who care solely for the welfare of goats, and is well worth a visit. Home to 137 goats, whilst also overseeing the care for 109 goats in foster care, the team at the sanctuary are committed to giving a happy, safe and peaceful life to their goats – many of which have been mistreated, abused, starved and abandoned in the past.
Visitors are welcome every day from 11-4pm in the summer months and are invited to stroke, feed, and just generally chill out with the goats roaming the main field. There’s also a fenced-off area to feed them through if you’d rather not get too close, as well as The Old Goat House tea room, which is surrounded by roaming goats, but fenced off so you can enjoy a slice of cake without a greedy billy trying to have a bite.
Need more goat-related fun? Book onto the Goat Walking Experience, and take one of the sanctuary residents out for a guided walk along the various footpaths around the sanctuary. Turns out goats are just like bigger dogs…who knew?
5) Play with guinea pigs at Luscombes The Golden Ball
This homely pub in Henley-on-Thames has a lot to offer; it’s been Michelin Guide recommended for ten consecutive years, the seasonal menu is filled with local produce, and the famous Sunday lunches are endorsed by Mary Berry. But topping all of that…you can cuddle guinea pigs.
All re-homed from Blue Cross in Oxfordshire or the general public, 24 guinea pigs and 12 chickens can be found in the small animal sanctuary at the bottom of the garden. Just call ahead to let them know that you’re keen to go and visit the guinea pigs, and a member of staff will make time to take you into the enclosure, which boasts an epic guinea pig house equipped with seating, heating & lighting.
Honestly, I’m struggling to think of a better way to spend a weekend afternoon than eating gourmet food, and cuddling some endorphin-boosting bundles of fur.