RICHMOND, Va. — Cuddling up to a fluffy white Pyrenees puppy, nurse Tiffany Lloyd laughs as the pup licks her nose. "Oh, thank you!" she said.
For Lloyd, this is the therapy she desperately needed. "It's been a rough couple of years, and I figured let's give it a try."
Just a few days earlier, Lloyd and some 400 other people responded to a social media post from Richmond Animal Care and Control. The shelter announced that it had a litter of seven Pyrenees puppies and was offering snuggle sessions to the public before the dogs were adopted.
The shelter said it gave priority to first responders, healthcare workers or people who were experiencing loss and depression.
RACC Director, Christie Chipps Peters, said they selected 50 people out of the hundreds.
"There's so much hurt and worry and sadness right now that people are feeling that sometimes they don't have an outlet," Peters said. "So, we were very surprised to be inundated with such a large number of people who were like 'I'd like nothing more than to sit in a room with a fluffy puppy to make everything better.'"
Studies show that pets increase our physical and mental well-being, reduce stress and loneliness, and increase happiness in our lives. Yet for some, pet ownership is not always possible. Especially for people who face financial challenges.
"We don't believe those benefits of having animals should be solely available to the affluent," said Tabitha Treloar with the Richmond SPCA.
At the Susan M. Markel Veterinarian Hospital, public grants and donations to the Richmond SPCA help vets provide critical care to beloved pets. The clinic accepts clients based on household size, income, referrals and people who've adopted from the SPCA.
"For our staff of veterinarians who are working here, that is a huge weight off of them to know that they never have to turn away a client for the lack of the ability to pay," Treloar said.
But even for people who can afford care, but can't commit to full-time pet ownership, Treloar said fostering a pet through the SPCA's foster program, might be the answer. The SPCA assumes all care-related costs for people who participate in the program.
"You could really be doing a service for the animal, while also getting that personal benefit as well," Treloar said. "It's a win win!."
As for RACC's recent snuggle session, the outpouring from the public has convinced the staff to offer similar opportunities in the future for people who want to spend some time with animals or consider adoption.
Peters said life can be tough, but animals often put things in perspective — especially when we need it the most.
"I think animals remind us that the world is good and kind and happy, and we can focus on that," Peters said.