In Praise of Fido

Partnering people and pets can lead to better lives for both

Who can make a positive difference in your life every day, listen without interrupting, read your emotions but not need to talk about them, greet you with equal enthusiasm at the beginning and end of the day, keep you active and engaged, make you laugh and play, and love you unconditionally? If you are lucky enough to be an animal’s companion (sounds nicer than owner), you know the answer.

The pet’s name may be Blackie, Scout, Princess or Melvin. They may be short or tall, with long hair or a buzz cut, maybe even with feathers. They may like to chase balls or Frisbees, jog around the block or ride in cars, do tricks or just cuddle on the couch. For daily health and wellness, pets are good for people and we can be good for them.

Eight Ways Pets are Good for People

Decreases stress and improves mood. Researchers at SUNY Buffalo found that when conducting a stressful task, people experienced less stress when their pets were with them, even more than with a relative or close friend. Pets have also been shown to relieve their owner’s depression and anxiety.

Lowers blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having a pet has the potential to lower blood pressure, especially in hypertensive or high-risk patients.

Provides pain relief. Pets can be good medicine for those recovering from surgery or dealing with chronic migraines or arthritis. They relieve anxiety, and less anxiety can mean less pain.

Lowers cholesterol. The CDC also credits pets with the heart-healthy benefit of lowering cholesterol. Pet owners, particular men, have significantly lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels than those who don’t have pets.

Helps people socialize. Pets can bring people together. Dog owners get out into their neighborhoods and increase their opportunities to socialize. Even nondog owners may stop and talk to a person with a pet. For returning vets, companion dogs can provide a smoother transition for re-entering society and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prevents strokes. Cats are just as beneficial to your health as dogs. Studies show that if you have a cat, you are less likely to have a heart attack and less likely to have a cardiovascular incident like a stroke. Pets can also aid in recovery from a heart attack.

Prevents allergies and improves immunity. Having a pet in the home reduces the likelihood that children will develop allergies.

Helps get us moving. Need motivation to exercise? Dogs can act as the perfect personal trainer. Research conducted by the National Institute of Health found that dog owners responsible for walking their pups are less likely to be obese than dog owners who pass the duty off to someone else or those who don’t own dogs at all.

People are Good for Pets

While people benefit from having a pet, animals benefit from human companionship.

“Pets are reliant on a ‘leader’ of sorts, and we provide that direction for them,” says Dr. Karen Leshkivich, a veterinarian at Mattydale Animal Hospital. “Even though cats are less obvious about that relationship, they rely on us socially and emotionally. Dogs definitely benefit from us; we are their leader and playmate. Both cats and dogs generally like and seek the attention we give them in

forms of petting, brushing and grooming that give them a sense of satisfaction and relaxes them.”

How does a veterinarian who cares for the pets of others, benefit from her own?

“They provide companionship, are amusing and fun to play with. They are comforting and often sense when I’m having a bad day.” And in the spirit of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, she notes, “My dogs especially, greet me every day as a new day.”

While most pets just share their love with their immediate “family,” others bring comfort and wellness to strangers. Pet Partners of Syracuse is an animal therapy organization that brings people and pets together by training volunteers and their pets for visiting-animal programs in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and schools.

“Our pets bring unconditional love and acceptance to everyone they visit,” says Sue Gilberti, of Pet Partners. “While they don’t actually ‘heal’ anyone, they do help in making that person feel more relaxed and able to forget their problems for a while.”

With additional training, some volunteers can take their pets to schools and libraries where young and old struggle with reading. A dog is not going to correct a mispronounced word, so people relax and read for enjoyment, which ends up improving their reading skills.

“One day I was with my dog, Tara,” Gilberti says, “and we were at the Newland Center for Adult Literacy. A gentleman was struggling with his reading and got more anxious by the minute. He reached out and put his hand on Tara. Immediately, his shoulders relaxed, his breathing slowed and he finished the paragraph he was reading fluently.”

Pet Partners also visits the Department of Veterans Affairs health center and brings joy and comfort to veterans. “One man did not want anything to do with a dog,” Gilberti recalls, “but once he saw other veterans interact with Brodie, a chocolate Lab, he asked his handler, Robin, to please come over. Now he is Brodie’s first visit each week.”

If you would like to have an animal companion, consider adoption through the SPCA or the Humane Association of Central New York. For Christine McNeely, director of the Humane Association, summer means an overflow of cats and kittens and a greater need to find people to adopt a pet.

“More kittens are born in the spring, and in the summer are old enough for adoption. We have 80 kittens looking for good homes, as well as 125 adult cats,” she says.

With 100 cats on the waiting list to come to the shelter, every kitten or cat that is adopted makes room to take in more. Adopting a kitten for $85, including spaying or neutering and necessary shots, can be considered a bargain for a loving friend and companion. Cats more than 1 year old that are waiting for a home are $35. During a Labor Day weekend special offer—Saturday, Aug. 31, through Monday, Sept. 21—1-yearold cats are free.

For information about pet adoption or low-cost spaying and neutering programs, call the Human Association of Central New York at 457-8762 or visit www.thehumaneassociationofcny.org.

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