Friday, June 25, 2010

Counseling Corner: Friday Fun with Furry Friends

With all the talk - and heated debate- in the paper about animals: fish and fowl covered in oil in the gulf, people with too many cats, cats roaming around neighborhoods ruining flower-beds, dogs barking at all hours of the night, and finally, "Take your Dog to Work Day" on Friday June 25, I thought it would be nice to shout out to my own special four-legged friends and talk about the real mental health benefits of pet-ownership.

Take Your Dog to Work Day was first started in 1996 in the United Kingdom and June 25, 1999 in the United States. Created by Pet Sitters International, this day celebrates the great companions dogs make and encourages adoptions from local shelters, rescue groups and humane societies.

There is a growing body of research on pets and pet ownership that just confirms what any pet lover already knows: pets can enrich our lives and create a special bond. Pets become a member of the family. But what many people do not know, is that owning a pet can actually reduce stress, and decrease loneliness and help with depression. In addition, a four-legged friend can help prevent heart disease, and lower the cost of health care.

A study at the State University of New York at Buffalo showed that those who adopted a dog actually had lower blood pressure than non-pet owners.  In the elderly, pet-owners have better physical and mental health than non-pet owners.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that people with pets have fewer visits to the doctor than non-pet owners.

In addition to physical health benefits, animals can help us adjust to illness and loss, decrease anxiety, increase our sense of security,  allow us to increase social contact and become more active, and have something to care for, which has been shown to be a protective factor in suicide prevention.

As for me, I have owned pets my  entire life... cats when I was growing up, and adding a dog when I become an adult and lived on my own. I have found that having pets has helped me get through some of the most difficult times in my life, and have provided comfort and love when I was going  through a difficult divorce and was far from home living on the West coast. Pets are a wonderful addition to the family, and sometimes just what the doctor ordered!


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