People who keep pets experience many wonderful health benefits: especially in terms of companionship, decreased anxiety, lower cholesterol and increased immunity, according to WebMD. For the focus of this article, however, I am only going to address having a dog in your life since I don’t have cats or other pets. I also know several friends who have family members with pet allergies, so this article is not meant to make them feel left out in any way.
I vividly remember waking up giggling as a young girl from under the covers as “Pogo,” our family Airedale, leaned on the back doorbell many mornings as early as 5:30 am. While I found it amusing, my parents did not. The dog stayed, but the doorbell was disconnected after a week of those shenanigans. (Who needs a back doorbell anyway?)
My family has kept dogs as long as I can remember. Many of my brothers and sisters have at least one. The family dogs have provided our family endless good stories, each attached to wonderful personalities. Our growing-up dogs were all outdoors-dogs, including “Pogo,” and “Sinbad,” our beautiful Great Pyrenees. As the oldest, I was out of the house by that time, but I still remember “Gentle Ben,” the sweet Saint Bernard my younger brothers and sisters grew up with.
My last experience with Ben came the night my parents were away and had offered their house to me to “get away from college studies.” I arrived late and the key was not in its usual place in the garage. No problem—I’d just walk through the backyard and through the patio doors. I guess I’d forgotten that Ben was old, deaf and pretty close to blind. He didn’t recognize my scent, and couldn’t hear my fun acknowledgements that turned into pleading as he came barreling across the yard towards the house, teeth bared, protecting his territory. To this day I remember how hard my heart was pounding as I slid through the door, inches away from his growling mouth.
My children and I found “Licorice” at the MSPCA when we moved to Boston. She would become our first indoor-dog and be part of our family for 13 years. At that time, I was a single mother. So, between “bringing home the bacon,” cooking, cleaning, and trying to raise my kids, the twice-a-day walks were becoming a challenge. The kids pitched in when they could, but their lives were nearly as busy as mine. we were close to finding Licorice another home where she would get the attention she deserved. Shortly after that conversation, my son came down with the flu, and was home from school in bed. Licorice never left his side, and the decision to keep her with us had been made.
The indoor dogs that followed Licorice have included Cricket and Bella. Cricket was an older black lab that sat by my side throughout my nine months of surgery, chemo and radiation. To celebrate the completion of my treatments, I gave my husband, Mike, Bella, a 10-week-old yellow lab puppy, to thank him for the endless hours of love and support he had shown me during those arduous months. His comment, “You know, you could have given me a watch!” I’m sure his comment had more to do with the challenge of kennel training a new puppy, and the frequency of late night trips outside to “make a puddle.” He did resume a more normal sleep schedule after Bella was potty trained.
We are now the proud “parents” of Daisy and Fenway, both new to our family in the last couple of years.
What all of these dogs have in common, each and every one, has been their unconditional love and smile at any moment of the day! Those of you who have dogs know exactly what I’m talking about.
Additional health benefits include:
- Both children and adults are reported to spend more time doing moderate to vigorous physical activity than those who don’t have dogs (American Journal of Public Health and the University of Victoria) Heart healthy!
- Studies show that children with dogs develop nurturing behaviors and build self-esteem sooner than those that do not. (Pedigree 2013)
- The responsibilities of owning a dog take the focus off oneself, and add great structure and routine to our days.
- Studies indicate that there is reason to believe that germs, especially those associated with dogs, may be associated with protection against childhood asthma. (ABC news, June 19, 2012)
- Dogs can sniff out cancers, including skin, bladder, lung, breast, ovarian and colon cancers. (Journal Gut, published in 2012)
- Dog owners experience more happiness, less depression, anxiety and lower blood pressure in stressful situations.
- In an article in Mental Floss, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people who do not own pets.
- Dog also encourage a more active social life. (HelpGuide.org)
And speaking of the social aspect of dog ownership, I remember one of our new neighbors (having recently moved from California) asking, “So how does one meet people here?” Many of us urban dwellers go out the back doors to the garage, thus never having any face-to-face interaction with our neighbors.
If you have a dog, however, the world is your oyster! Dogs are the “meet and greet” kings and queens of the neighborhood. I remember my son once saying, “I’ll take the dog for a walk, and she’s a chick magnet!” If you have a dog, you’re going to meet your neighbors with dogs on your routine rounds. Like having your kids in soccer, dogs are a built-in social network.
We’ve all heard how important a strong social network is for our health. Having a dog for a companion, you enjoy the added benefits of another great community of people to see on a regular basis. It’s been such a bonus for us wherever we’ve lived! Many of our fellow neighborhood dog walkers have become lifelong friends.
One cannot emphasize the health benefits of having a dog. You will WANT to walk them several times a day for the very reason that they show and bring such love and happiness to your life, and they in turn love their exercise. Having a dog is a win-win for all of us. I encourage you to consider the health, happiness and companionship that a dog might bring to you and your family. There is great information available for the ASPCA and other organizations that offer great insight into the breeds of dogs that suit particular lifestyles and living situations.
And, as a favorite bumper sticker says, “WAG MORE, BARK LESS!”