Oct. 1, 2019

Pets and Health

If you’ve read my other posts or follow me on Instagram, it’s likely that you already know I’m an animal lover.  Accordingly, you won’t be surprised that I’m about to share information on how pets can help your health.  In reading up on this topic before writing this post, however, I will say I was surprised to learn how many benefits there may be!

I grew up in a home filled with animals.  We had dogs, cats, bunnies, horses and other critters like hamsters, fish, and mice.  I loved it. 

My family had a reputation and we ended up with several dogs brought to us from bad situations.  I had a cat that lived in my room and entered and exited from my window on the rooftop.  Now, do you think our house was immaculate and clean? Of course not.  There was always pet hair and my mom, to this day, keeps her couches covered in blankets because the dogs use them and trash them.  

“A lot of people, including my parents, thought this was a really terrible idea. “

Some people grow up in a house like this and never want another pet again.  I am not those people.  In college, our house felt empty without a pet.  I’d fuss all over every random dog being walked because I missed mine so much.  When I started law school in Colorado two months after my dog passed away, I felt that hole of missing a pet.  I hemmed and hawed about the idea for two whole months, and, with the permission of my understanding roommate, adopted Alki during my third month of law school.  A lot of people, including my parents, thought this was a really terrible idea.  Law school is not exactly a program known for lots of free time to care for a puppy.  Looking back, I laugh at my own decision to do it, but I have never regretted it.  

Getting an 8-week old puppy that was scared of his own shadow may not have been advisable, but he helped me in so many ways.  Many students stayed at the library for hours on end studying.  My roommate was diligent and would stay on campus all day.  I’m not someone who works well doing that anyway, but with Alki, I didn’t have a choice.  I had to go home to let him out.  As he got older and more active, we started going for long walks, then runs.  This got me outside, even in blizzards and crummy weather and, it turns out, this helped my sanity immensely.  Law school, like many high-pressure programs or jobs, can be all-consuming.  Having a dog meant it couldn’t consume me. 

” People legitimately think we are nuts. “

As my life has changed in the thirteen years since adopting that sweet puppy, dogs have been a constant.  My husband had a dog, Morrison, when we started dating, so one dog became two when we moved in together and, a week before we got married, we got our terrorist puggle, Thomas.  We adopted Mowgli four years ago and lost our beloved Morrison nearly two years ago.  We adopted Teddy last fall and just celebrated his first birthday.  Read that again and it tells you we have now consistently had 3 or 4 dogs at all times during the last eleven years.

People legitimately think we are nuts.  I think there is some truth there, but there is something else too.  My kids always have furry playmates to join them in their treasure hunts, sprinkler runs, and adventures.  They incorporate the dogs in weird ways and its hilarious to see what they come up with. 

Our dogs are really good sports and part of the reason we continue to add dogs is that the younger dogs enjoy these antics much more than the older ones, and this allows the senior two to sit and watch, engaging when they want to.  The younger two happily play along and love to have the kids outside with them. 

” I do credit our pets with reducing the incidence of sickness in our home. “

There are conflicting studies on the value of pets with children, but many people believe that pets in the home strengthen immunities because of the inherent dirt and germs that dogs bring in the house.  Yes- I like that my dogs’ dirt is helping my kids.  Knock on wood, but we don’t have allergies or many illnesses in our home.  Of course, we get sick, but I do credit our pets with reducing the incidence of sickness in our home.   Having the dogs also encourages the kids to be outside and, thus, exposing them to even more allergens and dirt regularly. 

Beyond the health benefits, my kids are learning certain things from having pets.  They know we need to feed them, fill their water and take them for walks.  They want to help with these chores much more eagerly than others I try to get assistance with.  Feeding a dog is much more fun than cleaning a bathroom, but it’s also learning to care for and show compassion for an animal that is dependent on us.  We have a big responsibility and no matter what is going on in our lives, they need to eat and be cared for.  I hope that this is something that will make them better humans as they grow- they understand compassion and love for others in a special way.  Alki walks with the kids to the bus every morning and I think that adds a little extra love as they start their day.  They are growing emotionally through these experiences.

On that note, there are also a lot of psychological benefits that can come from pet ownership.  We have a cat that we got when I was struggling to get pregnant with our first.  It was another rash and probably not well thought out decision, but I was in the dumps and missed my cat that would comfort me in my younger years. 

We went to the shelter to “look” (don’t do that unless you’re prepared for the consequences, by the way) and left with Lucy.  She did actually provide additional comfort to me and, when I did get pregnant only a few months later, she was by my side during the long days and nights of nursing and tending to a tiny new human.  Turns out, there are a lot of opinions that cats specifically have specific mental health helping benefits.  While she has certainly added some other irritations for me, I can’t deny the ways she helped me during a particularly tough transitional period in my life.  

“…having pets in our home keeps me sane. “

It’s incredible how much these little critters can help you feel better on a bad day, or give you a feeling of having a friend by your side. Having worked from home for the last four years, I can honestly say that having pets in our home keeps me sane.  I don’t feel like I’m in a lonely space- I pet a dog on every trip to fill my coffee cup.  I’ll go throw the ball for them when I need a breather, and having them around makes me feel far less isolated than I would if I worked from home without pets.

There’s also an additional benefit that I’ve touched on in prior posts- exercise. Dogs, in particular, are really helpful partners if you want to move and get outside more.  Dogs, like humans, need exercise to thrive and they don’t have things like Facebook, Netflix, and ESPN to deter them from doing it.  They don’t just get fat, they can get destructive and crazy.  Knowing this about a dog can be a very good incentive to get your butt out the door for a walk. 

Our youngest needs more exercise than the rest. He’s a big athlete with a good brain.  We walk and run and he lets me know if he needs more.  If I’m doing the right thing for my body and going out every day, he doesn’t feel the need to eat my couch or tear up the yard.  If I get lazy, I pay for it.  See my earlier post on Accountability on how he has helped me be accountable. 

“… this is another lesson and example for my children. “

Many people suggest that, if you can commit to the time and financial requirements of a dog, getting a dog can help you lose weight and get healthy simply by adding the walks that a dog needs.  This is of course not true for everyone, but it vis very true for me.  I don’t really enjoy walking/running alone.  I feel safer with a dog and enjoy the quiet, observant company.  I like the small interactions with other people and their dogs. 

Additionally, this is another lesson and example for my children.  Walking the dogs is fun, but it’s also necessary and good exercise.  They love to join me for walks and feel extra special when they can hold the leash.  They see me getting home from a run with Teddy and not only understand that the dog needed out, but that we were getting exercise. It is another lesson I’m hoping they are seeing and learning by my example- fitness and health, for all of the members of our family, is important.

I could go on (and you can certainly expect more on this from me at some point), but my point is this: if you’ve ever considered getting a pet and are working a healthier lifestyle (whether it’s your mental, physical or emotional health), a pet could be a great addition to your life.  Shelters and rescues have so many amazing pets deserving of homes and you might be amazed by unexpected benefits you’ll reap from your new best friend. 

Learn more about the whole health benefits here and here!  I’d love to hear your own stories of how pets have helped you- DM me on Instagram and tag me in your stories!  In a future post, I intend to share more on the pet I left out of this post- our horse!

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