Marriage and Family — 11 November 2015
How Pets Enrich Our Lives

Most people react positively to endearing pets. Cats and dogs, the most popular family pets, enchant both young and old members of the family and even endear themselves to some strangers they encounter. Aside from the intermittent delight of admiration and pleasure for both humans and animals, does this temporary or permanent connection enhance humans’ wellbeing?

The joys of pet ownership are many and span the gamut of physical and psychological enhancements to both pets and their owners. The unique bond of love and interdependence that is cultivated between humans and their animals often includes dutiful caring, unique loyalty and a sense of belonging and safety that is mutually rewarding. The intense protectiveness, love and devotion deeply reward both species.

In addition, research indicates that humans gain health benefits rarely equaled in other relationships.

The American Heart Association committee reviewed research that reported, “Pet ownership appears to be associated with a reduction in heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels and obesity, as well as improved survival among people with heart disease.”

Dr. Nieca Goldberg, clinical associate professor in the department of medicine at the Tisch Center for Women’s Health at New York University Medical Center found that, “Pet owners increase their physical activity simply by walking their dogs.”

Harvard Health publication reported the weight loss benefits of dog ownership. The study found that “Public Housing residents who walked therapy dogs for 20 minutes a day, five days a week lost 14.4 pounds a year, without changing their diets.”

Barbara George, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Lifestyle Medicine at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. summarized, “Pets tug at our heartstrings, but they also improve both our mental and physical health, helping us to live longer and happier lives.”

Though pet ownership is a major responsibility for owners and is, at times, restrictive to human’s freedom, as well as requires ongoing financial expenditure for food, supplies, toys, veterinary bills, preventative vaccinations and boosters, licenses, grooming and occasional pet-sitting costs, the benefits far exceed the demands. Most pet owners will attest that the equation is greatly in their favor despite all that pet-care entails.

For some individuals who have not been or are no longer parents, their pet provides them with the ongoing opportunity for nurturing, loving and caring acts that underscores their worthiness, contribution and emotional connection to a dependent, loyal and enthusiastic fan who intensely reciprocates with “interest”.

The shared love and delight between humans and animals may have for many pet owners deep rewards of intimacy, caring and bonding that they may not create as easily with people.

Consider pet ownership as a “win-win” relationship:

  • Understand that the efforts exerted on behalf of your pet are handsomely reciprocated through love, devotion, protection, emotional connection, bonding and loyalty – sometimes unequaled in humans.
  • Consider the emotional devotion, loyalty and shared love as psychological bonuses added to the joy of interactive contact with an adoring and loving pet.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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