At the beginning of 2019 Osman’s life was in transition. He gave up his corporate job and started walking dogs , focusing his family and studying psychology at a local university. He soon realized that walking Mali or other pups helped him when he experienced depression and anxiety, something he's dealt with since his 20s.
"I’ve had demons throughout my life," he said. "I still had suffered with depression since I lost my dad."
Dogs are like four-legged antidepressants.Medication didn’t help. But Mali did.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Nearly 80 million U.S. households have a pet, and 42 percent of those households have more than one, according to a 2015-2016 survey by the APPA. There are 77.8 million pet dogs in the U.S. and 85.8 million pet cats.
"She has helped me mentally and physically, her love is unwavering and no matter how you feel when you come home she instantly makes me happy," he explained.Osman started taking friends on walks with Mali. Sometimes they’d chat but often they’d just hang out. He soon realized that his friends were also benefiting from the dog and fresh air and he wondered if he could expand this model to help others.This inspired "Dudes and Dogs Walk and Talk," an organization that pairs men with a trained volunteer and a dog. Men can talk about their feelings or simply enjoy the fresh air.
“They need someone to listen,” Osman explained. “The idea of using a dog gives people an hour away from the family and gets them out.”
Men are notoriously resistant to seeking mental health treatment, but dogs seem like an easy entry point to talking for many guys.
“Dogs are like four-legged antidepressants,” Osman said. “When people are around the dog they drop their defenses. They play with the dog.”Osman’s instinct is right: Being around a dog — or any animal — boosts mood and helps connect people, says Rustin Moore, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the Ohio State University.
Meeting your new puppy, kitten or any other pet can be an exciting experience. Your pet, however, has some adjusting to do. New sights, smells and sounds can be overwhelming for the little guy and keeping a calm household is important.
“Walking a dog is a conversation waiting to happen,” he said. “People come across the street to pet the dog and then you start having a conversation.”
Research shows that interacting with animals has a positive impact on people with PTSD, autism and dementia, he adds.What’s more, people who own dogs recover faster from heart attack or stroke. While “some of that is exercise related,” Moore says pets support stress relief.
“People’s heart rate, their blood pressure go down as does stress hormones, such as cortisol, and actually there’s a feel good hormone called oxytocin that actually goes up,” he said. “It doesn’t even to be your own pet.”
While the project is in its infancy, Osman plans to work with psychologists to create a robust training for the volunteers so they can guide the men toward more help if needed. While he’s working on getting Dudes and Dogs right in his hometown first, he hopes to have it spread throughout the United Kingdom and, one day, in the United States.Osman also hopes that "Dudes and Dogs" can help normalize mental health care for men.
“It gives people the opportunity to realize that it’s not unusual to feel that way,” he said. “This is giving them a free space and a relaxed place to talk.”