Monday, August 10, 2009

Forget Laughter. Pets are the Best Medicine!

By Julia Williams

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Now, I have nothing against laughter and its genuine, proven ability to heal people of emotional and physical maladies. Laughter has given my own mental state a boost many times. But pets are the real “Super Healers” in my book.

My beloved cats are more than just good friends, great listeners and remarkable teachers; they’re powerful medicine no matter what ails me. They’re the glue that holds my chaotic life together. In times of deep sorrow and depression, they’ve even been the reason I got out of bed in the morning.

According to a 2009 survey by the American Pet Products Association, 62% of all U.S. households have a pet. What then, is so magical about this thing we call “animal companionship?” How can our lives be transformed by the loving presence of a pet? How do pets help people? Let me count the ways.

1. Pets give unconditional love and acceptance whereas very often, society does not. This is especially critical for those who suffer from low self esteem and self-worth, and those who are deemed “different” or “odd” for physical or mental reasons. For some of these people, a pet is their only friend.

2. Pets are natural born teachers. Watching, caring for and interacting with pets can help people of all ages (especially children) learn to be responsible, empathetic, loyal, loving and kind human beings.

3. Pets reduce the detrimental effects that stress, loneliness, fear and worry have on our bodies. Petting a dog or cat has also been shown to reduce blood pressure.

4. People who have been hurt by others sometimes put up a “wall” so it won’t happen again. Loving (and being loved by) a pet can help those with “closed hearts” learn to trust other people again and open themselves up to human relationships.

5. Dogs can help their overweight owners get in shape, shed pounds and live healthier lives. Most breeds require regular walks and/or play time at the dog park, which motivates responsible pet owners to get some exercise of their own.

6. Pets don’t care what kind of car we drive, how big our house is, or what we wear. They’ll be our friend and love us no matter what our social status is.

7. Pets give the elderly a sense of purpose and much-needed companionship.

8. Pets can warn people of danger; for instance, if there is a fire in the house, a burglar or other intruder. I have three “watchcats” in my home – I know instantly when someone is approaching my house, because I see them making a beeline for the bedroom.

9. Pets can help us get to know another person’s true nature, since there is a direct correlation between how people treat animals and how they treat each other. Kindness to animals speaks volumes about a human being’s character. Any form of animal cruelty, on the other hand, should be a giant red flag and a relationship deal breaker.

10. Some believe pets save lives by warning their owners of health issues. Dogs have been known to “smell” cancer before it’s detected by medical means, and some have a sixth sense that can alert their owners to an oncoming seizure.

11. Pets can reduce or alleviate depression and anxiety disorders. Winston Churchill suffered from depression, which he called "the black dog." But for many, a black dog (or any other color) might be exactly what they need to help them get well.

12. Studies have shown that owning a dog increases survival rates in patients who have suffered cardiac arrest. This is attributed to the increased physical activity of walking, grooming and petting the dog, which strengthens the heart, improves blood circulation, and slows the loss of bone tissue.

13. Pets help the blind, paraplegic and other handicapped individuals perform everyday tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. Although assistance dogs are not classified as pets by law, close bonds almost always form between them and those they help.

12. Pets inspire us to be better human beings. When we see the unfailing way that pets give their love and devotion to us and demand so little in return, it makes us want to be kinder, more generous and more appreciative.

13. The biggest reason that pets are the best medicine for body, mind and soul? It’s simple really– they make us happy. What could possibly be more therapeutic than that?

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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