I have been blessed to have pets in my life. From the time I was a little girl, my parents appreciated having pets as part of our family. My past is filled with many cats and dogs-Bootsy, Taffy, Pugsley, Buffy, Lucky, Lydia and Mamma Kitty, Puya, Frosty, Walter, Eutektik, Sam, Macho Man, Hansel and Gretel, Callie, Molly, and Smudge. Currently, we enjoy our Valley Bulldog, Brutus (though he does eat anything he can get his paws on when we are not looking); our daughter’s horse, Silly Filly, and my “ senior citizen” horse (age 29), Copper. Each, in their own unique ways, brings us much joy, happiness, and unconditional love. It was not until recently when we lost our 17-year-old cat, Spunky that I began to reflect on just how important animals can be- not only with the unconditional love they bring, but also in the proven health benefits. Unconditional, non-judgmental love…asking for only love and care in return for loyal, faithful companionship. Accepting us as we are…forgiving and devoted friends.
These qualities can be found in many types of animals, not just in dogs and cats, but in hamsters, fish (who eagerly swim to the edge of the bowl when they see you), guinea pigs, hedgehogs (RIP Marilyn Pearl and Sonic), and yes—even horses as large as they are- that become devoted pets faithfully serving their owners and only expecting loving care in return. Because of these qualities, we humans gain much more, according to the research, beyond the love we receive from our pets. Pets impact our bodies, our minds, and our spirits! They promote a sense of well being as they give love. They are funny and make us laugh. Laughing boosts our immunity and feelings of well-being! Pets are non-judgmental– not caring about how we look or even act. They don’t care about your finances, your age, your socio-economic status, and the color of your skin, your religion, or the state of your health. Pets provide unconditional acceptance…. and they can be a vital support in times of sadness or grief. Research has shown that when older people lose a spouse, they may experience less depression if they have a pet in their life. Pets, in fact, do impact our health in many positive ways.
Medical research indicates that pets may increase the life expectancy of someone who has had a heart attack. Pets are proven to reduce blood pressure. According to a study from the University of Minnesota, it was found that people without cats were about 30-40% more likely to die of heart disease. Other studies indicate that people who owned pets had lower cholesterol levels. Stroke risk may be lowered in people that own cats, as well.
Pets may help boost your immune system—the happy feelings that you get with a cat, dog, or other pet, helps to improve your immunity.
Animals also sense when their owners are ill or sad and provide comfort, thus boosting healing. Pets satisfy the need to touch and to be touched. Just petting or rhythmic stroking of a cat or dog can be soothing to the animal but also relieves stress in humans. Stress is also reduced when your pet snuggles with you. Did you know that just 15-30 minutes of quality time with your pet could elevate your mood and improve your production of the brain chemical serotonin, so that you feel better emotionally which also reduces the stress hormone, Cortisol. Cortisol elevations can then increase blood pressure and hypertension.
According to Mayo Clinic (2016), animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people—people receiving cancer treatments, in long-term care facilities, people with post traumatic stress disorder and chronic heart failure have been known to improve with animal therapy. Animals assist in rehabilitation of people re-learning to walk and perform activitites. Pet therapy is being utilized in colleges and community settings to help people deal with anxiety and stress. Mayo Clinic is even implementing a program calling “Caring Canines” with dogs making regular visits to hospital departments to help reduce stress, relieve loneliness and fears . Therapy dogs are trained to comfort those that are hospitalized or in long term care facilities.
In the Peoria area, several programs are available utilizing horses and horseback riding to promote well-being for persons with disabilities and to improve the quality of life in individuals with mental or physical illnesses. The Central Illinois Riding Therapy (CERT) is a program serving persons with a variety of physical, emotional, behavioral, and mental disabilities. This program is primarily run by volunteers in the community and may be contacted for further information. Mended Hearts is a program in Germantown Hills, IL, utilizing Equine Therapy promoting horse-assisted mental health and therapy.
The actual care of a pet, though sometimes labor-intensive, improves your sense of well-being and responsibility . Horses, dogs, and cats also teach children responsibility in caring for and training another living creature. This provides the benefits of responsibility which improve self-confidence and that “warm fuzzy” feeling of love and accomplishment.
If a person is interested in obtaining a pet, there are many pets in need of good homes. To name a few in the Peoria area: Pets for Seniors, Foster Pet Outreach, ARK animal shelter in Marshall County, and Tazewell Animal- No Kill- Protection Shelter (TAPS) or Peoria Area Welfare Shelter (PAWS) . I would like you to consider the joys and health benefits of having a pet in your life. Or even the joys of volunteering in one of these organizations to help place pets in need of good homes.
Do you need a little fun, laughter, joy, love and better health ? Think about it… According to Clare Staples book , Everything I Know About Men I Learned From My Dog :
“One day I would like to be the person my dog thinks I am…”
Wishing you good health and well-being,
Terry Polanin, MSN, APN, Family Nurse Practitioner
A tribute to Spunky :
When tomorrow starts without me
Don’t think we’re far apart
For everytime you think of me
I’m right here inside your heart.