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JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - February 2018 - Kansas City
Furry Kids to the Rescue
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
How can these wonderful, amazing, annoying, demanding and loving furry friends rescue us? We call our dogs ‘rescues’ but according to lots of science and personal experience, I would say, perhaps, they have rescued us as well.
Having just returned from a walk in less than welcoming cold weather, I am feeling energized physically and mentally. Scientists tell us this extra dose of Vitamin D helps fight physical and mental conditions, including depression, cancer, obesity, and heart attacks. The sounds and feeling of nature also calm us. Heart attack survivors and people with serious abnormal heart rhythms who own dogs live longer than people with the same heart problems that don’t have pets.
This aerobic walk helped lower my blood pressure, also lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. My circulation is better and I may be less susceptible to mental health issues and my immune system is healthier. Is this why I haven’t had a cold in three years?
Having pets can actually lessen allergies, asthma and build immunity. Children who live in a home exposed to two or more dogs or cats, as babies were less likely to develop allergies, including dust, grass, ragweed and pet allergies, and were at lower risk for asthma.
Alan Beck, SdD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University tells us that petting your cat or dog feels good for the dog but also helps you produce oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief and to reducing blood pressure and lower cortisol levels. Who doesn’t want that?
Spending time feeding, walking playing with our pet distracts us from worries and concerns, keeping us in the present. Having fun keeps those positive brain hormones going. It also makes us think about something else beside ourselves as we help them.
Walking with a dog(s) socializes them and us. Our dogs began to be more comfortable with other people and dogs. We have met all our neighbors on our dog walking treks, making friends we probably would not have made. Dr. Beck says, “It’s an acceptable interaction that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”
Allen R. McConnell, PhD, professor at Miami University tells us that people with pets are generally happier, more trusting, and less lonely than those who don’t have pets. They give us a sense of belonging and meaning. He says, “You feel like you have a greater control of your life.” In his research he found that children tend to relate better to their classmates who have autism when pets are in the classroom.
The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative released a new economic study that found pet ownership saving $11.7 billion in U.S. Healthcare costs. Looking at 132.8 million pet owners in the United States the study found that pet owners visited a doctor 0.6 times less than the average non-pet owner. Pet owners who walked their dog five or more times a week, totaling more than twenty million people, had a lower incidence of obesity and were responsible for saving $419 million in related healthcare costs.
Every morning I am reminded of these things as our two little characters, Faun and Buffy, act deliriously happy, wagging their tails, barking and twirling with anticipation that they are going outdoors.
I will try to think of these many health benefits as I bundle up to go out in extremely cold weather or prepare to sweat it out in the heat of summer. Walking the dogs is a twice-daily ritual they enjoy and, most of the time, so do we. These crazy little furry kids love us unconditionally and help us improve our physical, mental and emotional health.
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Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to