There are many ways in which to incorporate self-care practices into our daily lives. Taking long walks in nature, a morning yoga routine, connecting with friends, or getting enough sleep at night, all serve to increase some aspect of our wellbeing and sense of fulfillment. Another way to take care of ourselves is to be close to animals.
Whether you are a dog person or a cat person, or perhaps you're partial to birds, mice, horses or fish, it is indisputable that owning pets enhances life. Like the other 68% of our nation, I too am a pet lover, and have three crazy critters of my own. Each one, in their own unique way, is a member of the family, and loved equal to their human counterparts.
Pet owning throughout history
Since ancient times, people and animals have a long history of living together and bonding. Ancient Egyptian paintings depict house cats, and Chinese Emperor Ling Ti loved dogs so much that he gave them the rank of senior court officials, allowing them to eat the finest food available, sleep on oriental rugs and have special bodyguards. Before her beheading in 1587, Mary Queen of Scots surrounded herself with an entourage of tiny dogs dressed in blue velvet suits (I’d give anything to see this!).
Today, our fuzzy four-legged friends are more popular than ever. Nationwide, the pet population has been growing dramatically for nearly a half century, from about 40 million pet cats and dogs in 1967 to more than 160 million in 2006. About two-thirds of U.S. households now own at least one pet.
Pets with benefits
According to research, pet owners have higher self-esteem, fewer feelings of loneliness, and are more physically fit and socially outgoing than people without pets.
In one study, a group of pet owners were subjected to social rejection, and then asked to write about either their best friends or pets. Researchers found that thinking about a pet provides the power to recover from negative feelings was equal to thinking about a best friend.
Pets offer unconditional love that can be very helpful for people living with depression. Owning a pet adds a sense of responsibility, regular activity, a set routine and reliable companionship, which can be a invaluable source of healing.
Studies have also found that pet owners have lower blood pressure, a reduced risk of heart disease and lower levels of stress. All with no risk of side effects, other than the occasional chewed chair leg.
Ambassadors of goodwill
Dogs are clearly the champions when it comes to spreading warmth and affection, which is seen most clearly in their role as therapy dogs. Research has indicated that interactions with therapy dogs can temporarily affect the release of various neurotransmitter in the brain; levels of oxytocin and dopamine are increased, while cortisol levels are decreased.
Indeed, after the tragic massacre in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, therapy dogs from all over the country were brought in to help the community, and especially for the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Pets in the workplace
Research has shown that in the course of the workday, stress levels decreased for workers who brought their dogs to work. Employees who are allowed to bring their dog to their workplace report having less stress and higher job satisfaction than industry norms. These good feelings extend to employees without dogs, often asking if they could take the dog out for a break.
Having a dog in the office is found to have a positive effect on the general work atmosphere, counteracting stress and making everyone happier. Pet presence indeed serves as a low-cost wellness intervention, yet only 17% of American businesses allow workers to bring pets to work. Trail blazers for this practice include Google, Amazon and Tumblr.
Working from home, I have the pleasure of having my pets with me all the time. While writing this, my dog who thinks he’s Rambo, is on guard near front door just in case the house is stormed by savage chipmonks. Meanwhile, the cat is serenely sleeping, curled up in a patch of sunlight. The parrot, however, is no use at all, as he valiantly attempts to sabotage my writing efforts with his raucous hullabaloo!