Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy.
In this age of extreme man-animal conflict, we constantly hear discussions about the need to co-exist with animals — the need to have 'mercy' on them and the need to consider that the earth is for them too. However, a fact most people do not consciously know is that man too needs nature and animals, as vitally, to rejuvenate his mind and body, in order for him to be happy and healthy. We underestimate the debilitating effect our human-filled concrete jungles have on our minds and bodies.
A microcosm of the rejuvenating effect of nature is the effect of our pets on us. How many of us know that pets come with some really powerful mental and physical health benefits? Dogs in particular (no wonder they are called man's best friend) can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health!
It’s only recently we have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond. The American Heart Association has linked the ownership of pets, especially dogs, with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity. Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression and have lower blood pressure in stressful situations. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months! Playing with a dog or cat elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax. Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than those without pets and heart attack patients with dogs survive longer than those without.
One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is dogs fulfil the basic human need to touch. Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behaviour after interacting with dogs.
Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy. I personally have seen this change in my younger daughter Gowri, due to my adopting two cats. Also, their mere presence at home can provide a sense of security to children.
The companionship of a dog can greatly help people with anxiety disorders. Because dogs live in the moment—they don't worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow—they can help you become more mindful and appreciate the joy of the present.
The writer is an animal activist and member of PFA, Thiruvananthapuram.