“I think I could turn and live with the animals.
They are so placid and self-contained,” writes American poet Walt Whitman (Schellenberg 1). Yes, pets have been part of human culture throughout history, and in American households, they are more common than children. It is reported that 58% of U.
S. households have at least one pet, whereas only 35% have children (Whitaker; Witherell 76). Owners spend billions of dollars each year on pet food, accessories, and veterinary care, but apparently pets give back, too (Schellenberg 1).Medical studies show that pet companionship offers concrete health benefits (Simross 14). While only in the past few decades have scientists become interested in the benefits of pets on human health (Schellenberg 2), “as far back as Plato and Socrates, there were admonishments for people to spend time with animals. . .for their health” (Simross 14).
“Researchers into the impact of animals on our health points to a clear relationship between the presence of pets and significantly better physical and emotional well-being” (Witherell 76). Pet owners reported fewer headaches, fewer bouts of indigestion, and less difficulty sleeping in one study (Avanzino). Also, interaction with animals is shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate, subtle changes with enormous health benefits (Whitaker; Schellenberg 2).For example, a large Australian study reported in 1992 indicated that pet owners are at lower risk for heart disease than non-pet owners because of lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lower blood pressure (Schellenberg 2). A recent study at UCLA found that 37% of Medicare patients who owned pets visited their doctor less frequently and seemed to tolerate stressful events better (Whitaker). These are only the physical benefits.“Being with animals.
. .is just good for our hearts and souls.
We . . .know that animals can lower blood pressure and help us live longer. But there is a whole other spiritual level there,” writes Susan McElroy, author of Animals as Teachers and Healers (Simross 15). The psychological benefits include reduced mental distress, a sense of security, lower rates of depression, and higher morale (Schellenberg 2).Serving as an effective stress reducer, “stroking an animal is calming,” says UCLA psychologist Dr. Judith Siegel (Witherell 77).
Patients who watched a fish tank before going into surgery did as well as those who underwent hypnosis to reduce anxiety and discomfort (Schellenberg 2). The benefits are obvious no matter if the animal has four legs, wings, fins, or even scales.Why such beneficial effects? “Ironically, the most common reason people give for not having pets-having to care for them-is one of the reasons pets improve health. Pets require that you ‘extend’ yourself when you normally wouldn’t, and for people who are ill or just want better health, pets turn them into ‘care givers’ instead of ‘care takers’ ” (Whitaker). Secondly, unlike humans, pets love with no strings attached.
They love unconditionally and are never judgmental (Whitaker). T. S. Eliot wrote that animals are “such agreeable friends–they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms” (Whitaker).That kind of support increases self-esteem and motivation, therefore contributing to overall good health. Additionally, pet ownership often increases the amount of daily exercise.
One researcher found that the average dog owner spends more than an hour a day outdoors with his or her animal (Avanzino). Still, some may choose not to have a pet on the basis that there are risks involved.True, there exists a “dark underbelly” of pet ownership including problems arising from allergies, bites, and infections (Schellenberg 3). Of allergy patients, 25% are sensitive to dogs or cats. Animal bites account for 1% of all hospital emergency room visits. Finally, infectious diseases can be spread when a bite deposits organisms from the animal’s mouth into a wound.
The resulting infection ranges from annoying to potentially deadly (Schellenberg 3).Consequently, pets may not be for everyone. Thus, successfully having a pet requires balancing the benefits and risks of sharing one’s life with an animal (Schellenberg 3).Works CitedAvanzino, Richard. “Pet Owners Are a Healthy Breed.” Burlington Boutique and Villager.20 Nov.
1996.Schellenberg, Diana. “A Friend Indeed.” Harvard Health Letter. Dec. 1993: 1-3.Simross, Lynn.
“Pets on Duty.” DollarSense. Summer 1996: 14+.Whitaker, Julian.
“Adopt a Pet For Your Own Health.” Human Events. 15 July 1994.Witherall, Mary. “Rover, Heal!” American Health.
Sept. 1995: 76-77.