For nearly as long as there have been humans, those humans have had pets. Our affinity for our animal companions is not new, but our understanding of our relationship with these animals has undoubtedly evolved. Our connection to these animals can be as rich and complex as our relationships with one another.
There are many reasons why we might choose to have a pet in our lives. First and foremost, they are wonderful companions. They are there when we arrive home after a long day. They’re there when our hearts are broken. They’re there when we meet our newest love interest and when we bring the new baby home from the hospital. We talk, they listen. They seem to have an innate ability to sense our moods and offer comfort when we need it most. They can be deeply intuitive.
Often we read news stories of animals who have saved the lives of their companions. These loyal creatures have given warnings about fires and natural disasters. Dogs, in particular, have led rescuers to find lost children and helped in disaster recovery efforts. As almost anyone who has ever bonded with an animal can tell you, the relationships we form with our animal friends are quite extraordinary. We’ve all seen the videos of servicemen and women returning home after a long absence to be greeted by their ever faithful companions.
Research shows that having a pet can be beneficial to our health, both physically and mentally. Thirty years ago, psychologist Alan Beck and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher ran a study measuring the human physiological response to petting a friendly dog. They found that it lowered participants’ blood pressure, slowed their breathing and heart rate, and relaxed their muscle tension. The study concluded that petting and playing with animals helps relieve stress. Having a pet has been found to improve overall mental wellbeing for many individuals. For some, the relationship goes beyond being a companion animal to actually being therapeutic. Emotional support animals have been shown to help individuals with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other severe mental health conditions. Studies have shown that they helped them manage their emotions and offered a distraction from the symptoms of their mental health conditions.
Recently, the American Psychological Association published the results of three studies that found that having a pet can increase self-esteem and wellbeing. Our animal companions make us feel needed and less lonely. They can help us improve our physical health as well as our emotional health. Taking your dog for walks provides regular physical activity, a chance to get outdoors, and an opportunity to meet others and connect with the community. Taking care of our pets provides us with a daily routine and a sense of control.
But as almost anyone who has ever bonded with an animal can tell you, the relationships we form with our animal friends are well beyond any health benefits they may offer. We’ve all seen the videos of servicemen and women returning home after a long absence to be greeted by their ever faithful dogs. The excitement the dog displays at seeing their human companion is so touching. Our pets give us unconditional love and acceptance, and we should all strive to love as unconditionally as they do.