Pets Helping People is Powerful Stuff

Waffles wants to lend you a paw

The healing powers of pets have been a hot news topic of late since the American Psychological Association published research regarding the benefits of pet ownership in July. The results of the study indicated that “pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extroverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.” All of these positive attributes to pet ownership lower the likelihood of maladies ranging from depression to high blood pressure.

As someone who has been going through an emotional struggle of her own recently, I can attest to the fact that my pets have helped keep me sane. On days when it seems impossible to get out of bed, I wake up to my cat Waffles making muffins on my pillow and purring, and her tendency to be extra sweet and snuggly in the mornings (albeit, as a ploy to be fed) takes a bit of the edge off of waking up with a heavy heart. Once out of bed, my ten-year-old dog Meli’s ability to run laps around the room while whipping her favorite toy around brings me a smile, as her unflappable exuberance and unfiltered love is a reminder of all we have been through together over the course of her life. As silly as it sounds, even Larry my bearded dragon has a claw in lifting my spirits, as there is nothing more precious than a sleeping lizard, and seeing him so peaceful is a reminder that I too can find tranquility.

Cross-species bonding is a well-documented occurence. Observe Peepers & Meli.

Given my experience, the fact that pets are being used increasingly in therapy is no surprise. The ability of animals to bond with humans is one of the parts of life that science cannot fully explain, a bit of magic if you will. In the elderly especially, it is often not the physical problems that prevents healing, it is lonliness that pets help to remedy, “research [indicates] that elderly Medicare patients with pets had fewer doctor visits than similar patients without pets.” An intangible bond with measurable results is a rarity in this world, something to be recognized and celebrated.

The study also found that pets are as effective in healing rejection in college-aged kids as close friends. The 97 students that participated in the study were asked first to write about a time in which they felt exluded. Immediately after, they were instructed to either write about their favorite pet, a best friend, or to draw a map of their campus. Those who were asked to write about a pet or a friend tended to score higher on the measure of social needs fulfillment following the writing activities than those who drew the map.

Get some lizard love from Larry!

Past research focused more on the benefits of pet ownership for people with serious illnesses, whereas the current study is an indicator of how pets help “everyday people.” Based on the results, it does not appear that average people rely on pets at the expense of other human relationships, but rather utilize pets as an additional form of social support. The journal article states that “lonliness and rejection are painful to experience (MacDonald and Leary, 2005), but one’s friends and family may not always be present to provide immediate comfort (and, in some cases, they may be the source of social pain).” Pets radiate their loving and innocent energy, and can provide everything from comic relief to a furry shoulder to cry on in times of need.

We at Encina keep all of this in mind as you come in to see us with your pets, as we know how integral they are to your family. The concern that is evident in the eyes of the parent of a sick pet is a reminder of why we do what we do, we are not here only to enhance the lives of animals, but the people that bring them in as well. From puppy or kittenhood to healing the aches and pains of our senior patients, we realize that it is our job as stewards of your animal’s health to ensure that they will be with you for as long as possible as you make your way through life’s ups and downs. 

 

Seal reminds us all to SMILE!!

 

 

To read the entire journal article, please visit: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-ofp-mcconnell.pdf

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