October 25, 2013

How Much is that Doggie in the Window?

He may be worth more – for your health – than you might think.

There hasn’t been a dog living in my house for a long time. But every couple weeks, during our bridge games here, a friend brings her Jack Russell Terrier. "Willie" runs arounds, snacks, and relaxes as we play cards. I really like having Willie in the house.

Then again, I don’t have to feed Willie, worry about him, keep him out of my garden, clean up after him, fret that his barking might bother the neighbors, or – the biggest concern for me – WALK Willie, especially on those cold, rainy or snowy mornings.

Still, my resident Nepali family and I have recently discussed – again – getting a dog. So far, we’ve decided against the addition, and I suspect it’s been the right choice for us . . . for now. But the November Wellness Letter from the University of California / Berkeley featured an article titled “Pawsitive Thinking” that raised the question one more time: dog or no dog?

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association (AHA) reported “associations” between pet ownership and lower blood pressure, heart rate, and blood cholesterol. Dog owners, the AHA reported, got more exercise, and were less likely to smoke or be overweight . . . to the benefit of their cardiovascular health.

Most studies suggesting connections between pets and wellness involve dogs or cats (there are 165 MILLION of them, combined, living in American homes), but there is evidence that caring for fish, chimps, goats, even snakes, is beneficial to humans.

Here are some of the other pet-ownership benefits highlighted in that UC/ Berkeley newsletter:
  • Pets provide companionship and may help relieve stress. 
  • Pets add structure to our lives – feeding, walking, cleaning, grooming, etc – a feature especially useful for older pet owners.
  • Pets can be great for kids, teaching responsibility, offering companionship, and even boosting their immune systems.
  • Pets, especially dogs, can be trained to assist disabled owners.
Does it still seem like too much of a commitment, bringing a real animal into your home? There are options:
  • You can volunteer at the local animal shelter, or at a facility that trains service animals. The Humane Society offers suggestions.
  • The pet doesn’t even have to be REAL to bring potential benefit. One study showed cardiovascular improvement for people just looking at animals on a video screen.
As always, there’s another side to consider:
  • Pets are expensive.
  • They can be noisy and destructive.
  • They can bite, causing injury.
  • They CAN transmit diseases, though cases are rare.
  • They can cause falls in the home.
  • Your family and friends may be allergic to your pet.
The debate continues. My housemates and I will keep talking

.Dog in window of store called 'Petville' holds up 'Reduced' sign.  Woman a… - New Yorker Cartoon Premium Giclee Print

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Really wondering if it’s time to become a pet owner? Check these sites:

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