This is in recognition of my dog, Shaka Zulu Yoda Riley (yes, that's his name). He is 10 years old today.
I went into outpatient eating disorder treatment a little more than 10 years ago. Occasionally one of the employees would bring her black pug, and I think we patients were more excited to have the dog there than the owner. A month later, I ended up going to an inpatient treatment facility where in addition to group, individual, art, and recreation therapy, we participated in equine therapy. I had a horse that I'd groom and ride twice a week. One thing I learned from outpatient and inpatient treatment was that animals are beneficial to therapy.
Having wanted a dog for years, I found this was the perfect pitch to use with my parents. I said to them, "The therapists said that animals are helpful for recovery." A couple months later, we brought home my puppy.
Shaka has been beneficial to my recovery in particular and health in general. One way is with exercise. If I'm dogsitting him, I will get exercise because I have to take him for a walk, lest he incessantly pester me. On the other hand, I can't overexercise if he's around; in fact, he seems to think that any solo exercise I try to do is a warm-up so that we can play together.
Another area that having Shaka helps is with eating. One characteristic of his breed, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, is that they act like they're always starving. Shaka is no exception. I've seen parallels between his and my behavior. I had to remind myself, Shaka doesn't need to eat just because food is around, and neither do I. It also showed me that, while Shaka would gladly eat until he bursts, it's my responsibility to feed him moderately, exercise him, and keep him healthy. Likewise, I have a responsibility to treat myself at least as well as I treat him.
The real treasures of having Shaka as a pet are the little things. When I go to my parents' house, he rushes to greet me, and I can't help but smile. He comes over and sits next to me or licks my hand or does something else, and I scratch him behind his ears. If I'm dogsitting him, I have to get up at a decent time or else he'll start whining for his food. I also find that there's not as much time and energy to worry about little things when I'm spending my energy on my dog.
If you're thinking about getting a pet to help your recovery, it's something you should look into it. Ask yourself whether you have the time, energy, and ability to take care of a pet and if so, which type of animal would be best for you. If you live in an apartment that won't let you have a dog, maybe you can consider a bird or turtle. If you don't have the time to consistently take care of an animal, you can volunteer at a rescue shelter instead. Before my family got Shaka, I started working at a vet hospital. This helped me to see that I could - and wanted to - take care of a dog.
Many professionals have written about the mental health benefits of having animals. You might find that they can benefit you, and you can benefit them as well.