More than Man’s Best Friend

 After I lost my mother to heart failure, I was really worried about losing my dad, who was in his 80s. Except for a stint in the Philippines during World War II, a handful of overnight business trips, and trips to the hospital to have four kids, my parents had never spent any significant time apart since they were married more than 60 years ago.

 What was he going to do? How was he going to cope without his lifetime companion and best friend?

 I was worried because I knew the odds—most widowers die within three years of their spouse’s passing.

When a family member dies, you are at the center of a whirlwind of activity that keeps you from truly feeling the death of your loved one right away. There are so many family and friends visiting and calling.

And then you’re alone with your memories and your loss.

But a little four-legged member of the family, Max, held the secret to helping my dad cope. Dad wasn’t alone in that big house because he had Max, his miniature Schnauzer. And I am absolutely certain that Max understood what my dad was going through; Max missed my mother, too, and he waited for her return for the rest of his life.

Of course, my dad’s grieving didn’t end just because he had a dog, and to this day, he misses my mother, but Max helped my dad through this transition by giving him a reason to get up every the morning. Max had to be fed and walked, and he had to visit the groomer and see the vet.

Studies have shown that interactions between people and pets can reduce anxiety, depression and loneliness, and enhance a person’s general sense of wellbeing.

Max got my father out of the house, and every time they went outside, a neighbor stopped to talk to my dad, providing him with social interactions that he might have otherwise missed if Max weren’t there.

One study done by researchers at the University of California Davis, showed that owning a bird helped increase morale and alleviate depression and loneliness of seniors living in a skilled rehabilitation facility.

Pets are always glad to see you, even if you screwed up at work or had a bad day, and they don’t care if you are tall or short or fat or thin or smart or stupid. A pet’s love, loyalty and companionship are unconditional, so it’s pretty easy to see how they can help your emotional health.

But pets can help your physical health, too. Just petting a dog reduces your blood pressure. In addition, owning a pet lowers your cholesterol and triglyercide levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies show that pet owners are healthier than people who never owned a pet or people who no longer own a pet.

Some pets, like dogs, need to be walked, so that increases your opportunity to get outside and exercise. (Just take a dog for a walk repeatedly at the same time each day, and you have a fitness partner for life—neither rain, nor snow, nor dead of night will keep a dog from his expected walk.)

Several studies have shown that dog owners walk more than non-dog owners.

Because they are so darn cute, pets increase your opportunity for socialization. Everyone wants to pet the cute puppy or look at the pretty cat. Fellow pet owners, who number over 71.4 million in the United States, just love to talk about their beloved companions.

The bottom line is that pet ownership is good for you, regardless of your age.

“As research has developed from small, descriptive reports to more systemic study, there is steadily increasing evidence that companion animals provide many important physiological, psychological and relational benefits,” Dr. Froma Walsh wrote in a perceptive review in the journal Family Process (Human-Animal Bonds 1: The relational significance of companion animals).

“Companion animals, although not for everyone, can meet many core psychosocial needs and enrich our lives,” Walsh wrote. “They provide pleasure and relaxation; deep affection and steadfast loyalty; and security and consistency in our changing lives. These attachments bring joy and comfort to children and adults and contribute to healthier, happier, and even longer lives. Bonds with companion animals may not be our whole lives, but they can make our lives whole.”

It’s been four years since my mother’s death, and my dad is still going strong, taking care of himself and living his life.

Unfortunately, Max died of heart failure two years after my mother. My dad was sad to see him go and grieved his loss, but he realized that he didn’t want to wander around that big empty house by himself, so he went to a shelter and adopted a new dog he named Buddy.

To your health,

Written and Published By:  Marie Rosenthal

Filed under: CA Dog Fence News

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