As our modern world becomes more urbanized, populated, and technologically dependent, we can feel lost in the crowd and isolated. Our electronic era makes personal contact less and less essential in day-to-day life. Telephones, faxes, and computers have replaced handshakes, hugs, and face-to-face friendships. The Internet Age is exponentially speeding this fundamental change in interpersonal relations. When we separate from one another by wires and antennas we leave something behind. There is an inherent need in each of us to experience social and physical contact. Warm, personal friendships and loving and caring touch create feelings of worth and security not replaced by e-mail or soap operas.
Impersonal distance in modern life can also create pathologies ranging from road rage to overt violence. Enemies are easily created when they are nameless and faceless. That’s why the best way to defuse an attacker is to talk with them, make eye contact, and get personal.
Modern life also estranges us from our natural environmental roots. Asphalt, drywall, and fluorescent lights are a far cry from meadows, trees, and stars. There is a yearning within each of us, a biophilia as it has been called, to connect with nature. A walk in the woods, planting a garden, feeding birds, visiting a wilderness, and catching a glimpse of wild creatures does something quite indescribable for the soul. The peace, inspiration, and pleasure brought by contact with nature are downright therapeutic. Nature draws us to it like a magnet. The further we get from it, the less whole and healthy we feel.
Our need for love, closeness, touching, and connection with nature is what draws us to pets and makes that contact so beneficial. Pets are still quite wild with retained senses and abilities that make them yet suited for survival in nature. Our close relationship with them keeps nature ever near—and in a very convenient, safe, cuddly, and loving form.
The simplicity of the human-animal bond is what makes it so endearing, particularly today in our complex world. Feed them, treat them kindly, clearly define expectations, and they become a friend for life who will never criticize and who will love unquestioningly.
I knew a sand volleyball player who had a terrible personality problem. He would barely acknowledge the existence of anyone around him other than players he liked playing with. You could say something to him and he would just avert his eyes. When new players would approach him and ask him to play, he would just walk away. He was insulted that rookies would have the audacity to think they could play with someone of his caliber and stature. He was awful on the court as well, criticizing opponents for any tiny rule infraction and expressing disgust for any error his partner would make. If there was an argument somewhere, he was always in the middle of it.
In spite of such obnoxious behavior, he was wonderfully kind to a little terrier companion he always brought with him. If it was cold he put a little coat on him. If thirsty, he would pour water into his cupped hand for the dog to lap. When he would lie down on his back to rest between games, his little friend would run over and jump up on his belly, curl up and rest with him.
As difficult as it was to think well of this person, you couldn’t help but be warmed and marvel at the love he and his dog shared. The little signs of humanity he showed to his pet made it seem as though there was hope for him. One could certainly wonder though, how socially misfit he might have become if it were not for the love of his dog.
The psychological and physical benefits to humans from pet companionship are enormous. A pet in a nursing home environment can breathe new life into those who have given up. Almost every measure of improvement in the disabled is benefited by pets, including motor skills, balance, self-esteem, mood, attention span, memory, vocabulary, and overall health.
Children who are physically ill or socially maladapted similarly benefit. Pets can make life happier and easier for youngsters having trouble with studies, classmates, or family. A pet can help a child keep a positive outlook on life since it serves as a positive, non-judgmental companion. Caring for a pet also teaches responsibility and gives a mentally healthy sense of importance.
Remarkably, anyone can experience health benefits from companion animals. Recovery from any illness is hastened, blood pressure reduced, will to live increased, immunity enhanced, and mental balance strengthened. Even watching fish in an aquarium can decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety. Heart attack fatalities are 30% greater in a given population for those who do not have a pet as opposed to those who do. For just this one disease, pet companionship could mean about 30,000 lives saved each year.
Pets can bring out the best in us. They help us empathize, focus outward, nurture, develop rapport, have fun, get up off the couch, socialize, stimulate us to think and reflect, provide unquestioned nonjudgmental acceptance, and teach loving touch. Pets put us near that good and kind inner being we so sparingly let out.1 As Anatole France stated, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
Dr. Wysong is author of thirteen books on health, nutrition, self improvement, philosophy, and the origin of life. He is a pioneer in the natural health and nutrition movement, and is the first to put the creation-evolution debate on rational footings. His blog, books, updates, mind-stimulating content, and interactive forums can be found at: asifthinkingmatters.com. To contact Dr. Wysong email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Pets: Good for what ails us. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: http://www.wysong.net/scientific74.shtml.
Photo credits: Cat at computer by ~Sage~; Hissing cats by ringogoingo; Lady feeding the birds by closelyobserved.com; Dog on bicycle by m-louis; Girl kissing dog by savannah bunny; Drinking Bulldog by dcassaa; Homeless man and dog by wvs; Dr. Dog by sunrise.seven; Hand in hand with animals by y-its-mom
2 comments… add one
What an excellent article!! The benefits of animals are endless and so beneficial. As a therapy dog team with my wheelchair-bound dachshund I have seen and experienced first hand the positive effect she has on children, adults, the elderly, the ill and hospice patients. And at the same time the rewards I experience are so enlightening and enrich my life beyond anything else I do.
Sharing the love of our animals with others who can’t have that connection on a daily basis is truly a beautiful gift. There are many organizations like Delta Society and Therapy Dogs, Inc. where you can become trained and provide this service of love and compassion to the world.
Pets truly do bring out the best in us. I am living proof of that because my dog, Frankie helped me find my purpose.
Author & Mom of Frankie, the Walk ‘N Roll Dog
I find it’s not so much keeping up the will to live, as the need to carry on alive to keep my cat alive, which has saved me – nothing heroic, he’s just a normal cat with normal needs but I can’t bear to abandon him which keeps me ‘trapped’ in life and makes him my life-saver. Lovely website – I never realized that budgies are so absolutely amazing.