The Power of Pets

by Christine Spidell

When a person adopts a shelter dog or cat, it is often referred to as rescuing the animal.  But many pet owners believe that their pets have actually rescued them.  Pets have an amazing power of healing and comfort, and are able to provide their owners with a unique form of encouragement and support.

Dr. Edward Creagan, a Medical Oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, has experienced this firsthand.  In a speech titled The Health Benefits of Pets, Dr. Creagan shares the story of a cancer patient who was determined to get well in order to get home to his dog.  Rather than a family member or close friend, it was thoughts of his dog, Max, that created an extra form of motivation for him to keep pushing and get well.

“We can no longer ignore the medical significance of the bond people have with their pets,” says Dr. Creagan.  He now writes down the names of all of his cancer patients’ pets and talks to them about their pets regularly.  He sees an immediate change in attitude when the patients begin sharing stories about their pets.  He says the atmosphere becomes one of “healing, peace, serenity.”[1]

A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that when a human, regardless of age or gender, strokes a dog, there are profound psychological changes that act to reduce stress.  The blood pressure and heart rate of the human reduce, and there is an overall sense of well-being.

For pet owners with social or emotional disorders such as anxiety or depression, having a pet can provide a special way of coping, and a sense of being needed.  Pets can enhance their will to live, and give them an extra purpose and responsibility.  They have a reason to get up each day, and develop a daily routine with their pet.

JoAnn Turnbull from the Delta Society has seen these positive effects on patients firsthand.  “Within five or ten minutes, we can see patients get healthier just from having contact with a therapy animal,” says Turnbull.  “People with chronic illnesses or who suffer from depression become engaged when they visit with a dog or cat, and they’ll engage with other people through the animal.  The animals are the bridge to communication.”[2] The Delta Society, also referred to as Pet Partners, is a nationwide non-profit organization specializing in Animal-Assisted Interactions.[3]

Whether the owner has a special circumstance, or just enjoys the company of a furry companion, the benefits of owning a pet are significant and special.  If you or someone you know is ready to adopt but could use some help, you can apply online right now.  If you’d like to make a contribution to help even more people in need, please donate today.