It is not a completely new idea that owning a pet can improve our general health and well being. Indeed one only has to watch a person petting their dog or cat (or whatever animal it is they own) to see and hear the way, that without even thinking about it, we are induced to smile, to talk in a gentler tone and generally to become more relaxed. The bond between humans and animals is part of our historical heritage. I read only recently of a discovery in Israel - a 12.000 year old grave in which the remains of a human body was found alongside that of a six month old wolf cub pup – buried together yes, but more than this, the human had been laid to rest with their hand laid protectively, lovingly even, over the pup. It’s a powerful image. More recently we have stories such as Greyfriars Bobby. A wee Skye Terrier who remained loyal to his master even after his death by standing guard over ‘Auld Jock’s’ grave for an unbelievable (were it not so well documented) fourteen years. The only time this faithful dog left his post was to eat! It’s a story that still touches our hearts today. People come from far and wide to pay their respects. On his gravestone it says:
Greyfriars Bobby - died 14th January 1872 - aged 16 years let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all
However, despite all the stories that abound (and there are many) the surprising fact is that scientific study of the human / animal bond is in its infancy, which means basically that the jury is still out on this important subject. Well for those in the white coats anyway... Pet owners on the other hand, may not consciously understand all the benefits that a pet can bring but there can be few, if any, amongst us that would deny they bring a lot of fun and pleasure and love into our homes. Let’s just look at what owning a dog can do for us:
As well as this we have blind dogs, deaf dogs, various animal therapies, where animals are taken into hospitals and other institutions to ‘visit’ patients. Doctors and nurses understand the benefits that this brings. People report: feeling happier after having received a visit from a pet – the message is clear - animals lift up our spirits. Interestingly though, and perhaps less noted, these positive reactions are not just one way stories either. Dogs wag their tails enthusiastically to show they are pleased and happy to see us. Cats stretch up towards us and purr in apparent ecstasy. I have a horse that very visibly brightens when I arrive at the stable, his ears pricking forward with pleasure, he rubs his nose up and down my arm ever so gently by way of acknowledgment. My dog curls his lip, yes, curls his lip... he is literally smiling at me. And to my mind it cannot be denied that smiling is good for one... who ever it is that’s doing it. So with all this in mind it really goes without saying that we should look after our pets with the loyalty and the devotion that they so freely give to us. We should feed them well, take care of their well-being, insure them against ill-health, visit the vet regularly to keep them up to date with vaccinations and all the other things that they need to stay in peak condition. And although this would not be the only reason we took good care, it goes without saying that in doing so we would ensure our own sense of well being and physical health too. A double whammy you might say.
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