Pets and Mental Wellness: Twila McGee Of NOLAs Finest Pet Care llc On How to Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Pets and Mental Wellness: Twila McGee Of NOLAs Finest Pet Care llc On How to Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Social Skills & Confidence- Taking your furry friend to pet-friendly locations is an excellent way to connect with other pet lovers and strengthen your social circle. Practicing and improving our social skills are important because this skill helps us to communicate our thoughts and emotions effectively resulting in healthy relationships with others.

Pets have always been more than just companions; they play a pivotal role in enhancing our mental well-being. From the unconditional love of a dog to the calming presence of a cat, pets have a unique way of alleviating stress, anxiety, and loneliness. But how do we truly harness the therapeutic potential of our furry, feathered, or scaled friends? How can they aid in promoting mindfulness, reducing depression, or even enhancing social interactions? In this interview series, we are talking to veterinarians, psychologists, therapists, pet trainers, and other experts who can shed light on how to maximize the mental health benefits of having a pet. As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Twila McGee.

Meet Twila, CEO and founder of NOLAs Finest Pet Care LLC, devoted to enhancing the well-being of our furry friends as the state’s first Bi, Black, Woman-owned pet health & wellness hub. Born and raised in Uptown, NOLA, Twila is a pet expert, artist, and proud fur mom. With over a decade of professional pet care experience and a lifetime of being a devoted fur mom, she specializes in cats and dogs and has extensive knowledge in fostering and caring for pets in every stage of life. Twila’s passion for her work has earned her business the recognition of America’s Best by Happy Doggo and Best in New Orleans by Kev’s Best. Her accomplishments have also been celebrated in various publications such as The Story Exchange, Huffpost, Disrupt Magazine and more.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

Igrew up in the Uptown, New Orleans area with my parents, one older sister, the best granny ever and later in life blessed with a bonus mom. We attended Catholic schools, but at home, Christianity was the focal point, and developing a relationship with God was paramount. As an adult, while I remain faithful and have a close relationship with God, I don’t subscribe to any particular religion, as I believe it can cause confusion, division, and even hate — which is not what being Godly is all about.

As a child, I inherited my love for animals from my mother, as we always had pets in the house. My first best friend was a silver-haired toy poodle, who was already part of the family before I was born. He and I had countless fun adventures together until he passed when I was 13. I keep his photo on my desk to this day. Later, I adopted two kittens, one of whom I rescued from an abandoned house a week before Hurricane Katrina. I raised them both into their senior years and cherished every moment with them. They provided me with emotional support throughout my teen years and well into my early adulthood.

I’ve been told that I’ve always had a rebellious spirit — not in a negative sense, but a desire to live life on my own terms instead of society’s expectations. I get this from my Granny, who started her own successful catering business at a time when women weren’t expected to be independent or have careers. As a child, I aspired to be an entrepreneur and blend my love for animals, baking, art and interior design skills. However, it wasn’t until my 20s that I had my “aha” moment. I had a terrible experience with boarding my cats, which inspired me to start my own in-home pet care service. Thanks to my two cats, my business — NOLAs Finest Pet Care LLC — was born.

I made a bold decision to discontinue my academic career and blaze a trail carving out my destiny. Not only did this feel right to me but I’m glad I did because now my business is Louisiana’s pioneering pet health and wellness hub. Completely devoted to enhancing the lives of furkids as the state’s first bi black woman-owned pet care business. This also gave me the opportunity to help my spouse blaze her own trail after surviving a brain aneurysm.

To us, a home is not complete without a furkid. A few months before the pandemic, my mother and I welcomed a young and malnourished mommy dog and her puppies into our home. Despite being tragically abandoned and in desperate need of love and care, we opened our hearts and home to them. We took great care to nurse the mommy dog back to health and ensured that the puppies were thriving and joyful until they found their forever homes. As a result, we decided to keep two of the five puppies, and they have become a cherished part of our family.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I had the amazing opportunity to Win one of Maddie’s Fund BIPOC Business Scholarship to attend Animal Care Expo 2023, my mission has always been to minimize pet abandonment rates and promote the well-being of pets. During the pandemic, the stay-at-home orders led to a decrease in shelter populations. However, once restrictions were lifted, these numbers rose again. I realized that the root of the problem lies in pet parents not evaluating their lifestyle and budget before adoption, mostly due to a lack of pet education availability. Throughout my career I have always educated pet parents but mainly those whom I’ve personally cared for their pets. However, after speaking with so many great shelter workers at the expo, this has inspired me to create an online course. My online course, Training for Hoomons, is both informative and interactive. I aim to partner with shelters across the nation, to provide this course at no additional cost to fosters and adopters with the support of sponsors. Join me in creating a community that ensures the happiness of all our furry friends.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

As someone who loves self-help books and personal growth, I’ve read my fair share of inspiring literature. However, one book that has stuck with me since college is Buddhist Bootcamp by Timber Hawkeye. The biggest lesson I took away from this book is the importance of self-responsibility. We are ultimately accountable for our choices, and it’s up to us to take ownership of our lives. We frequently make choices that either bring us closer or further from our objectives, and when things go wrong, we tend to blame others instead of assessing our role in the situation and working to improve. This, I believe, is one of the most challenging aspects of being human. One quote from the book that really resonated with me is “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” -E James Rohn.

Can you share a personal story about how a pet has helped you or someone you know to improve mental wellness?

When my high school love, now my spouse, and I was 19, she suffered a brain aneurysm that left her in a coma. The doctors were not optimistic about her chances of survival, and the thought of losing her broke me to the point where I felt disconnected from the world and struggled with anxiety and depression. Despite the well-meaning attempts of friends and family to support me, I felt too overwhelmed to engage in conversations. During those trying times, my cats and their soothing purrs were a great source of comfort that helped me cope.

While human interaction is essential for emotional well-being, in what ways do interactions with pets offer unique benefits that human relationships might not provide?

In my experience, furkids are always present, naturally spending their lives exhibiting unconditional love, a combination of compassion, empathy and non-judgement. Research shows that furkids can sniff out mood swings and do their best to shift our mood in a more positive state. Unfortunately, for humans, unconditional love and mindfulness are abilities that we must learn and practice regularly. Some individuals may never master this. We are constantly consumed by our phones and insecurities, and we often disregard other people’s or pets’ struggles and fail to show empathy. Furkids also experience emotions such as fear and loneliness, highlighting the need for emotional support from their person(s). Thus, reciprocating unconditional love and care is important.

Can you explain how this works? How do pets, particularly common ones like dogs and cats, biologically and psychologically help to alleviate human stress levels and anxieties?

I’ve always been fascinated in how furkids can drastically improve our mental and physical health without saying a word, just by being unapologetic themselves. Research shows that caring for a pet or interacting with a furkid can significantly decrease blood pressure and levels of cortisol, a stress related hormone. Something as simple as a stroll with your dog or cat (yes cats can be walked with a proper harness!) can improve your physical health and clear your mind. When you’re feeling anxiety, focusing on a task like brushing or petting your furkid will instantly make you feel calmer. When feeling stressed, playing with your furkid will positively shift your mood and may help you gain a better perspective to solve challenges. When you feel misunderstood and lonely, hugs and cuddles from your furkid will undoubtedly make you feel like you matter and loved. If you’re in need of a pick-me-up, spend some quality time with your furry friend, especially when they’re being silly. Medical research has shown that laughter and smiling have numerous benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, lowering artery inflammation, and improving blood flow. Endorphins and serotonin are also released in the brain which can act as natural pain relievers and antidepressants.

In the backdrop of global events like pandemics or natural disasters, how have you seen pets playing a role in alleviating anxiety and providing comfort? Can you share some instances where pets have been integrated into therapeutic practices? How do they complement traditional therapeutic techniques?

Research has shown that adopting a pet or interacting with one can be a significant breakthrough for children struggling with ADHD. By interacting with their pets, children can enhance their focus and social skills. Similarly, another study found that children on the spectrum tend to be much calmer when they interact with furry, scaly or feathery friends.

Not all pets are dogs or cats. From birds to fish to reptiles, how can individuals choose the right pet that aligns with their mental health needs?

I find the best method is to start with evaluating your lifestyle and finances, by doing so you will discover what type of pets you can and cannot handle. Ultimately decreasing the likelihood of abandoning your pet. I cover this and other essential pet care skills in my online course.

How does the act of taking care of a pet — feeding, grooming, exercising — contribute to an individual’s sense of purpose and mental well-being?

In my opinion, our innate desire to provide love and care for those beyond ourselves is a fundamental part of being human. Some people have children to fulfill this need, but adopting a furkid can be just as rewarding. Furry companions reciprocate with unwavering appreciation and unconditional love — a truly fulfilling experience.

The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. From your experience or research, what are your “Five Ways To Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet?” Can you please share a story or example for each?

1 . Getting Active- Taking your furkid out for daily walks or runs and carving out time for play could be the workout routine need. Daily walks and engaging in play reduce stress and improve heart health. Have you noticed how much your pet stretches? Following their lead and stretching properly after sitting or resting for long periods can improve blood flow and joint motion, make time for a little yoga with your pet.

2 . Social Skills & Confidence- Taking your furry friend to pet-friendly locations is an excellent way to connect with other pet lovers and strengthen your social circle. Practicing and improving our social skills are important because this skill helps us to communicate our thoughts and emotions effectively resulting in healthy relationships with others.

3 . Being Mindful- Have you ever noticed how your furry friend lives in the moment and takes pleasure in the little things? We can learn from this and practice mindfulness to connect with our thoughts and emotions and manage them in a positive way. By doing so, we can avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

4 . Structure & organization- pets aren’t the only beings that need routines and schedules to thrive. Planning out our daily routines such as feeding, play, grooming, etc. provides us with a sense of purpose and helps us stay productive by keeping us positively stimulated.

5 . Companionship- Having a furry companion can provide you with unconditional love daily, which can help you feel more relaxed and secure both mentally and physically. Interacting with your cat or dog can increase mental stimulation, positive thoughts, improve memory, and help you achieve goals. The absence of companionship can lead to negative feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The loss of a pet can be deeply traumatic. How can individuals navigate this grief, and how does it compare to other forms of loss in terms of mental health impact?

Losing a beloved pet can take a significant toll on one’s mental health. It’s crucial to handle the loss in a healthy way. Consider finding a support group or confiding in someone who can empathize with your feelings. Don’t ignore your emotions, practice self-care, do something special to celebrate their life, and when you’re comfortable, consider opening your heart and home to another furry companion. Equally important is to disregard those who trivialize your loss with statements like “It’s just a dog” or “It’s just a cat, no big deal”.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of peace to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

Making pet care education accessible- Imagine a world where humans frequently practiced unconditional love and mindfulness, and every shelter pet found a loving family and never had to endure abandonment. What a beautiful world that would be!

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

I would love to sit with other pet enthusiasts and collaborate on different methods we can significantly lower the abandonment rate and make this world a better place for furkids.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow me on Instagram & Facebook @nolasfinestpetcare

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at

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