Our dog Rudy loves people. He gets so excited when he sees people his whole back end wiggles and, on occasion, he lets out a big excited howl. People always laugh and get a hoot out of how pumped he is to meet them.
We have come to find out that people in our neighborhood drive by our house specifically to see him lying in the front window. People we don’t even know have told us they take a different route home so they can slow down and wave. I recently caught a friend doing just that; as they slowed down, I jumped behind Rudy in the window and they were embarrassed. We had a good laugh.
Our Rudy lives a pretty regal life. His every need is catered to. This is not an uncommon occurrence we have come to learn. A recent poll showed a whopping 95 per cent of owners see their pet as a member of the family. I know we had a 10th birthday party for our guy complete with hats, signs and a cake. Yes, we are those people.
Recently, I took Rudy to an employee mental health event. I was interested to see how it would go. Wow! We had more than 45 employees, managers and leaders show up. People in business suits, dressed up, letting Rudy lick their faces, rub up against them and at the height of it, there were seven people sitting with legs crossed on the floor calling Rudy to them to rub his face and back. The number of smiles was awesome, and people kept asking when he would be back. I would suggest several people had their resilience battery boosted for the day by two minutes with Rudy.
There is a ton of research on the benefits of having a pet. Owners have lower blood pressure and heart rates, it reduces heart disease and people even lose a significant amount of weight. In fact, in 2010, a study found public housing residents who walked dogs from the SPCA five times a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds over the course of a year. And here is the kicker: participants considered it a responsibility to the dog, rather than exercise.
Now the research is growing on animals and mental health. You have probably seen more dogs in your local coffee shops, restaurants, malls and hair salons. Their traditional job has been working with visually-impaired people but has grown to individuals with diagnosed anxiety conditions and other challenging disorders. It was not that long ago animals would never be allowed in hospitals, care homes or prisons but now you would be surprised not to see one in these facilities.
It is not just dogs either. Not everyone is a dog person. In one study, stressed out adults were asked to pet a rabbit, a turtle or a toy form of a rabbit or turtle. The toys had no effect but stroking the live animal, whether fur or a hard shell, relieved the anxiety. The interesting part is that it worked for people who said they liked or disliked animals.
We can also think outside the box to help people – or inside. Two interesting studies showed animals don’t need to be cuddled and touched. In a 2016 study a group of elderly people were given crickets in a cage to look after and became less depressed after eight weeks compared to those who did not get the crickets. It might be just the act of caring for a living creature.
Who has not been mesmerized by a fish tank in their life? Watching them go around and around and appearing to stare at you at times. An Alzheimer’s study showed that when they placed a fish tank in the dining hall with brightly coloured fish, people ate more, ate better and were less likely to pace. We visited my father-in-law for more than three years at his care home; I wish I’d read this study back then, I would have bought one for sure.
Whether it is a dog, cricket, horse, fish, or guinea pig they all make a difference. Also, to be clear, it takes time and effort to own a pet. We had a lot of discussion and did lots of research prior to getting Rudy. Make sure you go through a process and make the right choice for your lifestyle. Animals can bring a lot of love and improved health to your life, just make sure you are ready to care for another living creature.
Most animals are looking for food, water and love. But aren’t we all?
Darren Steeves is the owner of VenduraWellness.com, a company dedicated to improving organizational health one step at a time.