Being a pet parent offers many benefits. Animal companions not only give us unconditional love and friendship — they also improve our health!
Karen is an actress who used to burn the candle at both ends. That is, until she rescued a beaten and abandoned dog named Valoche. As a pet parent, she experienced a renewed sense of responsibility and pride. Valoche filled her up with love. Karen started taking better care of herself, and began reassessing her career and relationships.
One day she took Valoche for a walk at the local dog beach. There, she met Todd, a cute guy with a gorgeous purebred Lab. While they talked, the dogs engaged in a game of rolling in dead fish, and Todd suggested they take them to a self-serve dog wash. Todd graciously paid, and Karen in turn offered him two tickets to her show that night. Todd showed up by himself, sat in the front row, and just over a year later, proposed to Karen on the dog beach. That was almost 20 years ago, and Karen and Todd are still married and have three children. They also share their home with a dog, to remind them how critical it is to live a balanced life.
If being a pet parent makes you feel happier and better about yourself, it’s no illusion. Nor is it any wonder. Unlike many people in our lives, companion animals give us unconditional love. They live in the moment, they’re extremely compassionate and forgiving, and they don’t hold a grudge when you mess up. They don’t care what you’re wearing or what you look like, or if you’re in a grumpy mood. They’re always happy to see you, regardless of the kind of day you’ve had. Dogs and cats are stress soothers and social magnets, put people in better moods, give life more meaning, and help integrate kids with special needs into social situations.
Proven health benefits
But it doesn’t end there. Research has shown that companion animals also improve our physical and mental health and well-being. Here are just a few examples of some of the studies that have been done on the topic.
• According to WebMD1, people with dogs have healthier hearts because they get more exercise and their blood pressure is lower. It makes sense: when you pet or stroke a dog or cat, you slow down and become present in the moment. It has a calming and soothing effect on the body and mind, allowing you to pause, relax and breathe, which in turn lowers your blood pressure.
• A 2001 study2 found that having a dog reduced a rise in blood pressure by 50% in people exposed to mental stress. The same study also found that having a dog increased a person’s mental function by 25%.
• A separate study3 found that owning a dog reduced the likelihood of dying one year after a heart attack, by a factor of six.
• There is also some evidence that being a pet parent can benefit the immune system, perhaps because dogs and cats are so good at reducing stress.
• Another study4 done in 2012 found that “participants performed tasks requiring focused attention (such as driving and office work) more carefully after viewing cute images”, including those of dogs, cats and other animals.
The dating scene
Companion animals play a big role when it comes to matchmaking. Match.com5 surveyed 1,000 singles and discovered that 66% would not date someone who doesn’t like animals. In addition, 70% said that their date’s reaction to their animals is important, and 35% of women found men who have a companion animal more attractive. Interestingly, 59% of respondents were also more attracted to potential mates who adopt rather than buy their companion animals.
More personal stories
Examples of how animals enhance people’s lives and well-being abound. Even those who have been hit with unimaginable tragedy can benefit. In 1995, Nancy lost her husband and two young boys in a plane crash on the flight home from a weekend in Las Vegas to celebrate her son Seth’s 11th birthday. Fortunately, Nancy still had her two dogs, Shoshi (a golden) and Squeak (a Sheltie mix). They gave her the motivation to get out of bed every morning to take them outside and for walks. The dogs also served as a vital connection to her sons, because they “belonged” to the boys. When Seth was in Grade 5, he recorded in his journal that the best day of his life was when they got Shoshi, and the second best day was when they got Squeak. Nancy says that Seth would lie with Shoshi and tell her all about his day, and how he was feeling. After her devastating loss, the two dogs were her lifeline – they gave her a reason to keep living and to come home each night.
Another moving story revolves around Margot, a woman who fought cancer for more than ten years and was in terrible pain as the disease ate away at her bones. She could barely walk or sit up. One day, as she was being transported to the University of Southern California in her makeshift ambulance (the back of an Audi SUV), some close friends met her and her husband to present her with a special gift – a painting of her beloved dog, a boxer named Duke. In happy tears, and despite her pain, Margot was able to sit up, get out of the car, and hug the boy who presented her with the painting. Her husband Michael, who founded the Love From Margot Foundation after her passing, often shares this story to inspire others.
The Dalai Lama wrote, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Animals are the best examples of love and compassion on this planet. Just as importantly, they also help us stay happy and healthy!
2 Allen K, Shyko BE, Izzo JL. “Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress”. Hypertension, 2001, 38:815-820.
3 Friedmann E, Thomas SA. “Pet Ownership, Social Support, and One-Year Survival after Acute Myocardial Infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppressions Trial (CAST)”. American Journal of Cardiology. 1995, December 15;76(17):1213-1217.
4 Nittono H, Fukushima M, Yano A, Moriya H. “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus”. PLoS ONE, 2012, 7(9): e46362. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046362
5 Match.com, wtoc.com/story/25662993/the-truth-about-pets-and-dating.