In the beloved Peanuts comic strip, even moody Lucy got it right when she said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Why? Because research shows that dogs (as well as cats) are proven effective stress relievers that can provide therapeutic, emotional support on a daily basis, or in trying times.
“Pet therapy” is becoming a familiar complementary supplement to the traditional roster of care. Accompanied dogs and cats are routine visitors to college campuses, healthcare facilities, and senior communities to ease stress and promote socialization. Service dogs are often in airports, to help calm nervous flyers. Dogs can also help the healing process during illness, or in the aftermath of a crisis to help civilian survivors and returning military veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) cope better. Canines can influence an active lifestyle. (You can walk or run together!) They’re also credited with boosting brain development in children, along with emotional growth and connection to others. Some dogs are sensitive enough to detect the onset of epileptic seizures, or the presence of some cancers. A study by the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction at Tufts University found that second graders who read aloud to dogs in an after-school program, had improved attitudes toward reading in school. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) offers that dogs have a positive impact throughout life’s stages.
If you’re thinking about adding a four-legged pal to your family, keep these things in mind:
- Ensure that the animal you want is the right “fit” for everyone’s activity level, lifestyle, and budget. Animals need love, plus proper food, water, play, vaccines, and vet visits (which can be costly).
- Dogs require training, and some breeds need lots of exercise — not a match for someone who’s never home, with limited space, or who wants a “lap” dog. Cats are less time intensive.
- Check for any signs of aggression before a pet comes into the home.
- Dogs and cats should be alert, bright, and playful with shiny coats. Eyes, noses, and bottoms should be clear of fluids or matter.
- Always adopt from a reputable source (a trusted breeder, or known local shelter)!
- Wash hands frequently when handling pets, as they can transmit some diseases. Make their vaccines a priority, and stay up to date.
- Prepare well; get the right supplies for your new cat or dog before they arrive.
There’s no breed of dog or cat that’s 100% hypoallergenic, so consider a “trial” run. Try keeping pets off of furniture, or out of the bedroom. Clean thoroughly and often. Test out an air purifier. Cover car seats. If you’re allergic to pet dander, saliva, or urine, talk to your own doctor or local veterinarian for advice before you deprive yourself of having a dog or a cat altogether!
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano