Animals help Russians beat winter blues

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Living in Russia can be hard, especially during the winter. The days are short, dark and freezing cold. Making matters worse, the season lasts an average of seven months.

Not surprisingly, the miserable weather often makes people depressed and stressed out. Many studies have linked depression in the motherland to the immense cold and lack of sunlight.

Even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev acknowledges that it's very difficult to weather the Russian winter. He announced that the country will switch to Daylight Saving Time permanently.

And some Russians are turning to nature in an attempt to get rid of the winter blues.
Cats, snakes and guinea pigs

Elena Migranova is head of education at the Moscow Zoo. She said people of all ages come to the city zoo, during the winter, for a little emotional pick me up.

"People like cats. They like guinea pigs, and snakes. Especially for boys," she said. "You'll hear them scream 'I touched a snake! I touched a snake!'"

And Migranova said that the zoo works with all types of animals to help people suffering from a range of problems – including Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a mood related disorder caused by not enough exposure to sunlight.

And, during the harsh winter months in Russia, there are typically only a few hours of daylight if he animal "therapists" at the zoo includes hedgehogs, monkeys, boa constrictors, geese, ducks, raccoon dogs, silver foxes and even dolphins.

Speaking on Russian television, one teenaged therapy patient said he relies on a dip with Flipper to help him deal with illness and stress during the winter.

"When I got in the water this morning. I felt terrible. I had back pain but after 20 minutes with the dolphin I feel fantastic!"
President steps in

Many studies have linked depression in Russia to the immense cold and lack of sunlight. That's what prompted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week to permanently switch the country to Daylight Saving Time. He said creating more daylight will help people deal better with stress and illness.

"Every spring and autumn people get used to changing the clocks, and everyone got used to cursing about it," Medvedev said. "It disrupts human biorhythms, all of this business irritates people, and everyone either oversleeps or wakes up early and doesn't know what to do with themselves."

Medvedev said switching to Daylight Saving Time all year will even help the country's cows.

One of Medvedev's top advisors said that the time switch will add up to 17 percent more sunlight next winter.

Student Dmitry Arktipov is sceptical. He said he prefers to escape the long winters the old fashioned way: by jet plane.

"I usually travel a lot," Arktipov said. "I usually travel to hot countries in the beginning of winter and the end of winter."

But for those who aren't able to get out of Dodge, never fear. The beach is still an option, according to Elena Migranova. She said the zoo can bring the seashore to you.

"We go to hospitals," Migranova said. "They (patients) touch some objects like snail shells, and they can hear animal voices. Then we bring the live animals. Their faces look like an electric bulb. Suddenly so happy, so excited."