Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Great Blessing of Pets

People seem to grow much attached to their pets. From my earliest childhood, I remember my parents had dogs. The first dog I remember was named Happy because my older brother perceived something of a permanent smile on the dog’s maw. When Happy was no long part of the family, my parents acquired another dog, which was replaced by another when it died. The next dog was with the family for many years, dying after I returned from living in Japan for two years. Named for the little doll made of tar used as a trap in the Brer Rabbit stories, Tar Baby was certainly a beloved part of our family. Interestingly the little tiny all black dog, a Chihuahua mix, outlived the one puppy we kept from her second litter. We named him Tuffy. Tuffy was a mix, almost twice the size of his mother. One afternoon, Tuffy returned to the house after being “out”. Tuffy liked to roam, even though we unsuccessfully tried to keep him locked behind the fence. This time, however, was different. It was the last time he left home. Someone had kicked him hard enough to bruise his backbone. The vet said there wasn’t anything but rest that could help Tuffy get better; so, I spent a lot of time nursing him back to health. By the time Tuffy was back to full activity, he had a habit of lifting his upper lip and showing his teeth at me in a doggie kind of smile. I had trained my dog to “smile”. Well, there’ve been stranger things.

In the last twenty years, we’ve had a few dogs as well. Currently, we have two Welsh Pembroke Corgis. One is marked with red and white, the other is mostly black. Their personalities are just as different as their coloring. Still, all things considered, they are part of my family. I spend time with both dogs every single day. Our hero dogs are Zoe Defender of Katan and Bailey Fancy Boots of Katan (AKC is a strange world). Funny, Zoe is the one who likes to sit at my feet just happy to feel me scratching her ears while Bailey is all about chasing that ball. What’s really funny, though, is how they’re so much the same in those differences. They only want to be next to the other members of the family. They seem to only find ‘joy’ in being with us, being a part of our world.

I try to avoid giving animals human emotions. Most of the time, I am very successful. These two little gals have gotten to me. I have actually started to think I can look at them and determine their thoughts.

Why do people have pets?

“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” – George Elliot
Pets are fun, entertaining, loving and they bring joy. Pets can improve health as well as strengthen the immune system.

The Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia conducted a 3-year study with over 5,000 people, and found pet owners to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-pet owners. The National Institute of Health noticed that pet owners make fewer doctor visits and in a 1999 study the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that older pet owners are physically and mentally more fit.

Pets promote social interaction. We all know the cliché of the guy with the cute dog in the park, sitting on a bench and all the passing women stopping by to pet the pooch which inevitably leads to a chat with the owner. But hey, it’s a cliché for a reason – it works!

Pets encourage exercise. Some more than others but more especially rambunctious puppies encourage people to move, to exercise, to get off the couch.

Pets are non-judgmental. Dogs love you without condition. Cats….are a bit more finicky, but still love you if you treat them well. And neither will care what you look like or accomplished that day.

Pets encourage laughter. They’re playful, reminding us not to take life too seriously.

Pets help with depression and loneliness. Depression and loneliness come from an inward focus. A pet provides an outward emphasis with the promise of love and affection.

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” – Ben Williams
Children growing up with pets develop more empathy. Many times children view animals as peers and seem to understand them better than adults. Children can learn to read animals’ body language, and unlike adults, animals don’t pretend or play psychological games. Once they’ve grown, these children will better be able to read the body language of people, their learned empathy will also carry over.

Mental stimulation. Animals encourage social interaction which triggers memories and encourages communication.

Reduced blood pressure. Studies have found that having a pet actually reduces blood pressure and triglycerides.

Physical touch. Infants who are not touched enough, fail to develop well, both physically and emotionally. Touch is very important for the mind and spirit; however, many people are wary of touching even family members. Pets are a safer alternative for some.

Relaxation. The reason so many dentists and doctors have fish tanks in the waiting room: it provides a sense of calm, helps to decrease heart rate and blood pressure.

Maybe it is time to get our fish tank going again. We had fish before we moved to California. It was mostly a good experience until I bought those snails to help with fighting algae. They ate my aquatic plants instead.

I am grateful for the pleasure pets have brought into my life. My dogs are wonderful, always happy to see me, always wanting to be next to me, always seeking my attention. They’re standing at the back door watching me type this right now. I am grateful for the good energy they bring into my life.
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