Overcoming shyness - animals can help

                                              Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms
George Eliot
Animals can help us overcome many difficult moments or deal more easily with situations where we feel awkward, overcoming social anxiety and shyness
I was on a course with 12 people, none of whom I knew, and I was terrified - I find it difficult to meet new people because I'm quite shy.  The first thing the trainer did was to ask us to introduce ourselves, talk about our role and give one piece of information about ourselves that wasn’t work related.  I told everyone that I’d adopted a panda, and gave them a few details about him – where he lives, what he eats and why I adopted him.  Most people’s faces lit up, the room’s atmosphere immediately became more relaxed and I was really touched by their obvious interest. 
During the break, several people came up to ask how I’d got him and how they could adopt a panda too.  It really broke the ice; and what was interesting was that no-one else got that reaction to the piece of information they gave about themsevles. I felt very proud of my panda; I took a photo of him in to show the group the next day, and now I keep a photograph of him in my wallet to show people.  My panda certainly made the whole course easier for me and has helped me overcome a lot of my shyness and worry about starting conversations with people I don't know.
When I worked as a Careers Officer in Jersey, from time to time the Head of Engineering at the college next door would come over to see the powers that be in the Education Department, and he'd ask me to look after his beautiful Old English Sheepdog while he was in meetings with them. 
I was always happy to oblige, particularly if I was doing career interviews - the effect of the dog was amazing.  Young people coming in would immediately relax - you could see it in their faces and manner; they would talk about pets at home, which was a great way to start a conversation. Of course, we always checked with them first that it was okay for the dog to sit in.
But what was even more interesting was watching the reaction of business people who'd often stop in for meetings, most usually at the end of the day. I'd watch them come into my office, see this dog in the corner who'd wag her tail in welcome - and watch the stress lift from the employer's face and a wonderful smile emerge. That dog worked her magic every time.
Pets make great social catalysts
A study of 339 families in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, showed that animals increase social capital, and act as a lubricant for social contact.  The study found that:


  • Pet owners are more likely to view suburbs as friendly
  • They are more likely to exchange favours with a friend or neighbour. 
  • The trust required in exchanging favours boosts the community spirit – rather like leaving doors to homes open, as people used to do
  • Pet owners are more likely to take part in civic activities, volunteer, to campaign for environmental or social causes and to serve as a coach or instructor

The study also noted that pets help people tackle some of the main physical and mental health problems today e.g. obesity and a reluctance to take exercise.  Animals can make a difference, encouraging people to get out and about in safer environment.  They give people huge confidence.


You don’t need to own animals to benefit from animal magic – your neighbours may have animals you can help out with or cuddle once or twice a week.  If you live next door to a dog whose barking is driving you senseless, why not offer to walk him for your neighbours occasionally?  Or help an elderly neighbour with pet care?

Animals also play their part in politics, too! 
  • Russian President Putin thanked the West for their help in preserving the Siberian tiger, who has come back from the brink of extinction, at a time when relations between the US and Russia have got very frosty indeed. 
  • Iran and the West may disagree on the former's nuclear programme, but scientists from the two countries do agree that the Asiatic cheetah needs help.  Conservation groups from the USA and UK are aiding a campaign being led by Iran's Department of Environment and the UN Development Programme to try to save the cheetah.  It is now thought there are just under 100 cheetahs left roaming central regions of Iran, and although their population is now stabilising, more needs to be done.  More...
  • And whether one agrees with it or not, China has given a number of countries pandas as goodwill gifts over the years.