By Stacey Stewart (Iona College)
In 1991, there were one hundred and seventeen million pets in the United States. Over half of all families in America own at least one pet (Sable, 1995). Many dog owners do not consider their dog to be just a pet or animal but rather it is considered to be a member of the family. Dogs have been a necessary part of life for humans throughout history. Primitive people found human-animal relationships important for survival (National Institute of Health, 1987). Dogs are just as important today as they were years ago. Today dogs benefit everyone from children to the elderly. Dogs benefit their owners psychologically, physically and socially.
Having a family dog enhances the quality of a persons life. There is evidence that animal companionship reduces loneliness and gives a person a sense of well being (Sable, 1995). Pets can influence people in ways that are different from human relationships. People are highly influenced by dogs because dogs have an unconditional love and friendship that many people can not get from other humans. The presence of pets increases feelings of happiness, security, and it reduces the feelings of loneliness (Sable, 1995). Dogs can fill a person's emotional needs which can sometimes be substituted for the loss of a particular human attachment, or it can add to certain social contacts that enhance specific pleasures in life.
A study that was done found that pet attachment was particularly important among divorced, never married, and widowed people (Albert, 1988). When people are going through difficult periods of life dogs often become emotional substitutes because they are able to both give and receive affection. A women was quoted as saying " I personally know how compassionate dogs can be based on my own experiences with my Beagle. Whenever I am not feeling my best, Lambear will cuddle up to me, never leave my side, lick my nose and constantly look up at me to make sure that I am feeling better" (Glass, 1996, 14). Pets behave in ways that bring up a sense of being needed and are dependent on their owners for physical care, which in return makes the owner fell needed and wanted.
Pet therapy has been successful with children, people suffering from depression, and elderly people that live alone or in a nursing home. Twelve out of Fifteen patients felt that animals lessened fears, despair, loneliness, and isolation. One reason for this is due to the fact that dogs have a quiet, accepting and nurturing manner about them (Sable, 1995). Dogs are often brought into geriatric settings. Many of the patients that are often depressed and rarely smile almost immediately begin smiling when a dog enters the room and sits on their bed or lap. Many times elderly people no longer have close human support and owning or spending time with a dog often makes the elderly feel needed and loved. One doctor said that "there's a tactile side to their effect, in that stroking an animal is calming... their impact is similar to what you find in studies of human social support: they make you feel validated" (Witherell, 1995, 77).
Dogs can also physically help humans as well. A study that was conducted in Australia suggested that pet owners had lower blood pressure and cholesterol than people that did not own pets (University of California, 1994). It has been proven that no matter what peoples health problems or economic status is; people that own dogs make fewer visits to their doctors. Another study that was done found that people who had left a coronary care unit had a better recovery period having their dog by their side (Marks, 1994). Dogs have also been used in therapy sessions because animals help emotionally repressed people become more in contact with their emotions. People feel that they can talk openly to dogs because a dog will not reject them. From this, people are able to say exactly what they feel and think which helps to teach them how to express themselves (Glass, 1996).
Animals have had a big impact on the development of children. Children who own dogs score higher on tests of popularity, social skills, and compassion for others. Dr. Victoria Raveis interviewed children who had inadequate human contact and found that children age six to eleven who owned pets had a higher self esteem and lower anxiety than those children in the same age group that did not have a dog (Witherell, 1995). Young children need to know that they are being loved unconditionally and consistently. Children find this in dogs and they are often more comfortable sharing feelings with the animal. It has also been suggested that children who own pets have a better time maintaining relationships with peers especially in grade school (National Institute of Health, 1987).
If people communicated with other people the way that dogs communicate with humans we would probably get along better with each other. Humans could learn a few lessons from dogs like: respecting one another's differences without judgment. Openly showing appreciation toward each other. People should try to look at other people's points of view instead of just their own. Finally they should pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, which will give more understanding to what the person is trying to say (Glass, 1996). If these things were done it might lead to greater respect, more trust, and stronger relationships between the human race.
Dogs benefit humans in many ways. The importance of dogs will continue to increase as the family life changes. Dogs will be needed to give support, provide comfort, and reduce loneliness for many people. Dogs are no longer considered a family pet but a family member. It has been proven that dogs have feelings and are able to feel grief and happiness. Dogs have helped people both physically and mentally and will continue to do this as long as there are humans.
Albert, A.,& Bulcroft, K. (1988). Pets, famalies and the life course. Journal of Marriage and the family, 543-552.
Glass, Lillian. (1996, Oct.). That special bond: human and animal communication. Newsweek, 14-16.
Marks, G. Shaela. (1994, Nov.). Pet attachment and generativity among young adults. The Journal of Psychology, 641-651.
No author. (1994, Nov.). Pet power. The University of California, Berkeley wellness Letter, 2-4.
No author. (1987, Sept.). The health benefits of pets. National institute of health, Office of medical Applications, no page #
Sable, Pat. (1995, May). Pets, attachment, and well-being across the life cycle. Social Work, 334-342.
Witherell, Mary. (1995, Sep.). Rover, Heal! (healing power of pets). American Health, v14 n7 76-78.