Dr Marc Abraham OBE, or ‘Marc the Vet’ as he’s usually known, is a multi-award-winning veterinary surgeon, author, broadcaster, and animal welfare campaigner. Based in Brighton, Marc is also the co-founder and secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Dog Advisory Welfare Group (APDAWG), appears regularly in the media, and visits local schools to chat with pupils about caring for animals and looking out for each other. Marc was recently awarded the OBE for services to animal welfare by His Royal Highness King Charles III.
Ask any pet owner and they’ll boast that pets enrich their lives. In fact, we witness this every time we see people out walking their dogs. Of course, our human-animal bond isn’t a recent thing, it goes way back thousands of years; the domestication of Egyptian cats in grain stores, and the breeding of dogs to assist humans in various activities providing two of the best examples. This bond is also supported by scientific research which, unsurprisingly, constantly proves and reinforces that this mutually beneficial relationship between people and pets results in happier, healthier lives for both parties. This became very apparent during the pandemic with millions of pets being acquired, often overpriced and from questionable sources, just to provide comfort, joy, and emotional support for humans during lockdown.
The main biological benefits pets generously give us include relieving stress, lowering heart rates and blood pressure, plus helping us become physically active; directly reducing the risk of mortality, and even helping us cope with physical and emotional situations, including pain. If you’ve watched Ricky Gervais’ brilliant Afterlife you’ll know only too well how pets also give us that sense of purpose and mutual dependency that can literally save lives, and not just in extreme cases like Ricky’s character Tony Johnson and his beautiful German Shepherd Brandy. By providing companionship and unconditional love pets help us fight depression, improve our mood and outlook, facilitate healing, increase resiliency, plus bring distraction. Research has even shown that dog and cat owners laugh more daily than people without pets.
Inability to leave the house is a common symptom of loneliness, so having to walk a dog once or twice daily encourages outside physical fitness, lowers rates of obesity, and increases the frequency and likelihood of real life human-human interactions. Indeed, having a dog by your side is often the ultimate conversation starter, igniting connections, thus reducing feelings of social isolation. Staying home with a cat, rabbit, or any other furry or feathered friend also offers a degree of companionship and interaction, including fulfilling daily routines, which can all help support and manage long-term mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
The work that I do
I’m incredibly fortunate to work with a number of phenomenal charities that help humans suffering chronic mental health issues and who benefit from the emotional support of pets. Firstly, Brighton-based loneliness charity Together Co, who create connections and change lives by befriending, social prescribing, providing volunteering services, as well as by sharing ideas and expertise nationally. Knowing the power of pet therapy we launched the #Paws2Connect campaign encouraging pet adoption from the local RSPCA shelter as a way of combating loneliness and promoting companionship. Definitely a project I’d very much like to see rolled out nationwide, with other rescue shelters and loneliness charities getting involved.
North of the border, I also feel hugely privileged to work alongside Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home with their pet poverty work and #LoveWithoutLimits campaign. As well as rescuing, rehoming, and rehabilitating dogs and cats, the Home also helps despairing owners whose circumstances have changed, through dedicated pet foodbanks offering free health checks and advice; so rather than just solely take in pets to rehome, the Home wants to keep them where they’re already loved. Also, by actively engaging with politicians to raise awareness of pet poverty the Home are achieving lasting change. On a recent visit to support one of their many pet foodbanks, a few homeless people told me they’d rather remain on the streets with their canine companions than stay in accommodation that doesn’t allow pets.
What you can do to help
With increasing numbers of pets sadly now being abandoned post-pandemic due to behavioural issues caused by a lack of socialisation in lockdowns, inadequate training, plus an ongoing cost-of-living crisis, the current states of human mental health and UK rescue sector both appear at crisis point; homeless pets and lonely humans are suffering in silence, with most human and animal charities experiencing greatly reduced donations. But we can all do something to help; from sharing social media posts of animals needing homes, to dropping off food, toys, and bedding, or perhaps by even considering adopting or fostering an animal yourself? Who knows, just like Tony and Brandy in Afterlife, it could even save both your lives.