I wrote this article as a mentor text for my 4th grade students for our inquiry based nonfiction writing unit.
How Four Paws, Fur and a Lick Can Keep You Healthy
By Cheryl Mousseau
I cannot imagine my life without dogs.
I was born into a family with dogs. There was never a time when we didn’t have at least two dogs. My friends had dogs, my grandparents had dogs, my aunts and uncles had dogs, my cousins had dogs. We were ‘doggie people’.
Now there are 7 Labradors in my family. We eat and breathe hair and there is never a lack of Lab licks across hands and faces as they share happy and sad times with us. They are my constant companions and my dearest friends. I am more their ‘mom’ than their owner, and I would do for them whatever I would for a human member of my family. For some, that might sound extreme. Some might say, ‘they’re just dogs’. But I would argue, that in their short lives, they add more value to my life than many people I know. They are patient, loyal, and good listeners, never asking for or wanting more than my love for them.
It might surprise some that there are many health benefits to having a dog. They are great companions. They can actually boost your immune system and help to reduce stress in your life. Growing up with a dog can even prevent allergies.
According to Second Chance for Animals, “Pet owners have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels and in general, this puts them at a reduced risk for heart disease.”
Alex kicks up his grass stained feet and rolls on his back. Glory races away with yet another stick and Bounty drops the tennis ball at my feet. Constant companions to laugh with, play with, and yes, to talk with. The human/animal bond is very strong. In a study on this topic, Alan Beck, director for Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, says that 97% of people said they talk to their pets. Then he added, “The other 3 percent lied.”
Dogs keep you active. Whether you are walking, jogging or just throwing the ball, there are benefits to your heart and circulatory system. Staying active helps to boost your immune system.
Laughing and playing with pets helps produce endorphins (the feel good hormone). Petting your dog helps you to relax. What a great stress buster! When you walk through the door, after a hard day at work, they are there to greet you with a woof and a wag. They are someone to look forward to coming home to. When you feel down or depressed, they boost your spirits.
Another added benefit to having a dog is for protection. Having a dog in your house makes you feel safe. Dogs often protect their owners from dangers such as burning buildings and strangers.
My dogs alert me when someone is at the door, in the yard or even walking on the street in the distance. Who needs an alarm system with 7 dogs!
BENEFITS FOR YOUNG
Nurturing Self Esteem
Growing up with pets certainly made a difference in my life. Owning my own dog at an early age taught me life lessons about responsibility and care giving. The sense of accomplishment and pride I felt training and showing my Sheltie, Holly, encouraged me to be more outgoing in social situations. There is plenty of evidence that proves a child’s development is enhanced by owning a pet. It fosters cognitive development, empathy and self esteem.
Gail F. Melson, PhD, professor of developmental studies at Purdue University in Indiana has researched the impact that pets have on children. She found that kids over age 3, spent approximately 10.3 minutes caring for pets in a 24 hr. period as opposed to 2.4 minutes taking care of younger siblings. This is especially good for boys, she says, since babysitting and playing house is often seen as a ‘girl’ thing.
Pet ownership teaches life lessons. Pets become a part of our family, helping families build strong bonds. Children feel a sense of comfort when they are sad or angry or even afraid because they can turn to their pets. Dogs are non-judgmental and for this reason are often used in schools as Reading therapy dogs, “pals with paws”. When children read to the dog, this fosters learning in a relaxed setting where the child does not feel so anxious about their performance.
Benefits for Kids
Dennis Ownby, pediatrician and head of the allergy and immunology department of the Medical College of Georgia, in Augusta conducted a study on children’s allergies and pets. Surprisingly, having multiple pets actually decreases a child’s risk of developing common allergies, such as pet and dust mite allergens, and even outdoor allergens like ragweed and grass. In his research, he studied 474 babies from birth to age 7 and found that the children who were exposed to two or more dogs or cats were half as likely to develop these allergies. Other studies even indicate that early exposure may even reduce the risk of developing asthma. According to Dr. Ownby, he theorizes that when children play with dogs, the dog usually licks them. Those loving licks transfer bacteria from the dog’s mouth. The exposure to these bacteria may change the way the child’s immune system reacts to other allergens. My own family must be proof of Dr. Ownby’s theories since my parents grew up with dogs from a very early age, then so did my sisters and I, and my own sons also were born into a household with dogs. None of us have ever had any allergies to pets, dust mites, ragweed or grass.
Benefits for the Elderly
After my father died, Trisha supported her emotionally and kept her going. She never left her side. My mother often told me that she didn’t know what she would do if she didn’t have Trish. Her conversations would revolve around her day with Trish. They would walk to visit neighbors, go to the dump and the bank and the store together. She would always tell me how “Trish looked forward to the outings.” I believe it was more the other way around. Trish gave my mother a purpose for living. She felt as though Trish needed her but it was more that she needed Trish.
Lynette Hart, PhD, associate professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine states, “Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal at home.” Pets can give the elderly a sense of security, especially those who are widowers and live alone. It can ease the loneliness they feel and give them a sense of purpose and a feeling of usefulness. For those who are able, walking a dog or just caring for them provides exercise and companionship. Midland Life Insurance Company of Columbus Ohio considers those over 75 who have pets to have a healthier lifestyle.
Ties that Bind
Probably the most important benefits to having dogs are the strong family bonds that they create. When I interviewed students in my class who had dogs if they considered them a part of their family; there was no hesitation in the answer I received. “Of course!”
Dogs are often times the focus of family activities. They take the dog for a walk in the park. Dogs are great companions when hiking, or heading to the lake or beach for a swim. More and more places accept dogs when you travel, in hotels, or in vacation rentals. Families share in the responsibilities of feeding, brushing and playing with their dog. They offer great opportunities for families to slow down the hectic pace of our everyday lives.
It is no wonder that my family of dogs has increased to 7. Of course, that is not the answer for everyone. And certainly having more than one or two dogs does not increase your ability to lead a healthy life, although I would like to think so. Our lives become so full of more things. Pieces that are disposable or replaceable. If only for this very reason, dogs can add so much to our lives.
"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog.
You are his life, his love, his leader.
He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.
You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion." Unknown
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