When artist and chef Annie Nichols was diagnosed earlier this year with ADHD at the age of 57, it was her 10-year-old English springer spaniel who helped her deal with it. But in fact he’d been helping her for a lot longer.
“It took a while, but once I got my assessment it was such a revelation, like a huge weight had been lifted,” says Annie, who lives in Margate. “I’d spent a lot of my life not being able to grasp certain things or mimicking others in social situations, and often getting it wrong.”
As well as being Annie’s four-legged best friend all these years, waggy-tailed Freddie had, almost unbeknownst to her, been acting as her emotional support dog.
Emotional support dogs are distinct from service or therapy dogs, and help their owners cope with the challenges associated with emotional and mental health conditions by providing comfort through their presence.
‘The best thing about dogs is that there’s no judgement – they accept you exactly as you are’ – Annie
“Freddie is really affectionate,” says Annie. “If I’ve been upset, he will come over and give me a cuddle or nudge my hand for a stroke, which can release serotonin and ease anxiety. He’s also a good distraction. I can become hyper-focused, but Freddie likes to suddenly bring me silly things, like a pair of socks. He gets excited and does this proud little dance to get me to look up from what I’m doing. He always looks so pleased with himself – it never fails to make me laugh.
“The best thing about dogs is that there’s no judgement. As long as you feed them, walk them and play with them, they accept you exactly as you are.”
Annie has also greatly benefited from the consistency of Freddie’s routine. “It’s really grounding having a dog because they’re totally reliant on you,” she says.
“For some ADHD people, having a routine is really good, and because Freddie needs long walks, he gets me up and out every day. Plus, you get a hit of dopamine and vitamin D on the walk, so you feel better when you come back in.
“He also provides some light relief when we’re out because he’s not really interested in other dogs, it’s all about his ball – he always has one in his mouth, which makes people smile.
“I’m neurodivergent and always will be,” explains Annie. “It’s not something you can change or that will go away. The diagnosis has helped me understand how my brain works and make sense of past situations, but it’s Freddie who has been here, quietly helping me deal with it day by day – and I really can’t thank him enough.”