By megfiddler

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Fur Friends and Health

I am fortunate to have been raised in a family that appreciated and valued the companionship of pets. We owned a variety of dogs over the years, some we brought into our world by our choice, such as our German Shepherds Lady & Boots and a Saint Bernard named Kelly, who actually was a gift to my sister from her boyfriend. Others seemed to seek us out, such as Stranger a beautiful skittish girl that came to trust my sister Sharon’s gentle nature, but only after many weeks of patient coaxing. There was a mixed terrier we named Traveler. Her eyes looked as if she had eye-liner on. Pudger was a very smart chocolate cock-a-poo who loved everyone. There were others, but these dogs touched our lives in countless ways and have lived in our hearts and memories years after they departed. We even had a parakeet that my dad caught in our backyard. We first saw this blue fellow one afternoon flying around the yard with the wild birds. My dad and sisters and I chased him around the yard with a butterfly net and a floppy hat. We lived out in the country, but I am sure we were a sight to see; two kids and their father running through the fields waving a hat & net. We didn’t catch the bird that day of course, but my dad built a live trap and after many attempts and the capturing of wild birds he finally caught him and Pretty Boy became a member of our family. I remember waking many a morning to the smell of coffee brewing and the sound of my Mother’s voice repeating over and over “hello”. She really wanted that little bird to talk, alas he never did, although she always claimed that he did say hello once. The heart hears what it wants to hear.
When I moved out on my own, the apartment I rented didn’t allow dogs, so my journey into the unknown world of cat ownership began. I adopted Mia from Animal Haven in Merriam, Ks. and the following year Lily, again from Animal Haven. They were very friendly and loving cats who loved to sit on your lap for stroking or just for a nap. They would always greet me at the door when I came home in the evening. Mia died suddenly at the age of eleven and Lily recently passed away at 17 years of age.
When John and I moved to our current home we decide to get a dog. John had never really owned a true pet in his life so an indoor dog was going to be a new experience for him and one that to be honest, he felt he could happily skip. He tolerated the cats. I had them before we met and the deal was, “Love me, at least tolerate the cats”. Even though John had never had a close relationship with an animal he had a very strong opinion about the breed of dog he wanted—-a border collie. We have friends with border collies and he admired their intelligence. So we adopted Annie, a bc/mix from MoKan Border Collie Rescue in Kansas City. A year later we decided she needed a fur friend and adopted Jack. Being rescue dogs they have come with challenges, some easily overcome, some are still a work in progress, but they are members of our family forever and they bring us joy and pleasure without measure.
Unfortunately living in the country means we often have the sad experience of “dumped dogs” There appears to be a belief out there that people who live in the country have an abundance of land so they must also have an abundance of love and resources to take in all the unwanted pets out there. Not true! Over the years we took in a stray cat who was blind in one eye and had a torn ear. He was diagnosed with feline leukemina and feline immune virus, but we had him vaccinated and neutered and he lived his life out on our back deck and in John’s workshop. He taught Annie to respect cats. He would box at her with his front paws. A jab with a right paw. A jab with a left paw, backing her into a corner of the deck and even when she tried to escape he kept at her. We found a poor pathetic young pup curled up in a ball by the side of our driveway one cold snowy December day. We took him in and had him vetted. He had non-contagious mange and stayed with us for 3 months while he recovered. My sister fell in love with him and adopted him. We found two 7 week old pups on the side of the road during one Sunday morning walk, thankfully a local rescue group took them in and found them forever homes. We had another skinny frightened fellow show up on another December day. It took us hours of coaxing and a package of hotdogs, but he finally trusted us enough to come with us. We vetted him and again my sister with the soft heart adopted him as a companion to her boy Riley.
Each one of these dogs has a story that we will never know, but the story that begins when they entered our lives is profound. They give us unconditional love and friendship. They entertain us and at times frustrate us. They remind us to be patient. When they appear as if out of nowhere we are reminded that the human species is not always compassionate nor the higher life form, in fact we are often reminded how low the human species can go when we see the true cruelty that they can inflict on innocent animals. The Michael Vic dog fighting story is just one example, but the horrendous treatment of dogs in puppy mills is well documented. Missouri is one of the biggest producers of puppy mill dogs. They are considered cash crops to these breeders, not unlike cattle, corn or soy beans. When a dog is purchased from a pet store it is most likely it came from a puppy mill.
I started this blog today wanting to share information about the health benefits of pet ownership. I have rambled and veered off course for which I apologize, but the truth is that pets give us far more than they receive. There are many studies that show how chronic stress raises the harmful chemicals of cortisol and norepinephrine in our bodies. These chemicals can contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries. Playing with or petting a dog or cat can help elevate the nerve transmitters serotonin and dopamine which have a calming feel good effect on the body. There is even research that indicates that male pet owners have lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels than non-owners. A study of 240 married couples was conducted by NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. They found that those who owned pets were found to have lower heart rates and blood pressure, at rest or when undergoing stress tests, than those without pets. It has also been found that those who walk their dogs usually walk for longer periods and at a faster pace. Dogs also offer the opportunity to expand one’s social life. They are a way to spark conversation which can help alleviate loneliness. Pets can even be allergy fighters. Infants tested at birth and one year later were less likely to have pet allergies. They were also less likely to have eczema; a skin allergy condition. In fact these children had higher levels of some immune system chemicals.
Dogs and even cats in some instances are used for therapy purposes in hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
Pets contribute greatly to the quality of human life. They can help lessen our loneliness and depression. They allow us to put our attention on something other than ourselves or our problems. They encourage us to exercise and help us to engage in social interactions. They warn us of dangers both external and internal. Dogs have been trained to recognize when someone is having a low blood sugar or a seizure. But responsible pet ownership requires a human commitment that includes good food, proper vet care, training, exercise and love. It requires an exploration into your own personality and lifestyle to discover what kind of pet is right for you. Do you need a high energy dog that will go on your daily run or a little ball of fur to cuddle with on the couch? Do you want a puppy or kitten or a mature older animal? If the commitment of long term pet ownership is not for you for whatever reason there are still options out there that will allow you to benefit from fur kids. You can volunteer at a shelter to walk dogs or help socialize the kittens. You can be a temporary foster home for a rescue group. Many foster families need a break and a safe place for the dog while they take a vacation, you could be that reprieve for them, even if it is only for a weekend.
Pet ownership should never be entered into lightly or at the spur of the moment. It should be contemplated and explored completely, but know that for you the rewards are almost endless and as a human being, you just may find yourself elevated to new heights.