THE HEALING TOUCH OF PETS

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THE HEALING TOUCH OF PETS

Lord Byron, while listing out a catalogue of what he regarded as the SWEET things in life, opined among other things:

“Tis sweet to hear the watchdog’s honest bark 

Bay deep-mouthd welcome as we draw near home”

Hinting rather nostalgically that his favourite dog Boatswain had given him more happiness than all his poetic achievements and conquests of women.

THE HEALING TOUCH OF PETS
Saluki

Historians believe that pet keeping is one of the oldest practices which human beings still engage in. It is generally believed on the basis of scientific evidence that dogs were the first animals to be domesticated and that it took place about 32000 years ago in what is now Belgium, Siberia Russia and the Czech Republic. There is frequent mention of the association of animals with Gods in Hindu mythology as revealed in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata which reflect the habits and customs of people of ancient India. The Sumerians had a dog that we would today call a Saluki, by approximately 700 B.C. Soon after that, hounds began to be used in what is now called Afghanistan. There used to be a greyhound-like dog in ancient Egypt. Another dog is known as the pharaoh dog still exists. The Tibetans similarly had a mastiff and the Siberian nomads, the Samoyed.

Throughout the subsequent history of mankind various customs and practices such as slavery and human sacrifice, that were probably a part of almost all cultures at one time or another, were abandoned as unimportant or too gruesome, but the companion animal remained. Today, there are about 100 million pet cats, and dogs in the United States alone and a large number of birds, fish, reptiles, horses and other animal companions(having reptiles as pets may not be wise as the recent story of a lady, in a city, who had a python as a pet shows. It would appear that the lady noticed that her pet python was increasingly displaying affection towards her, and started cuddling up close to her wrapping his coils around her, not with pressure but gently and softly.  However as it was becoming slowly uncomfortable, she consulted her veterinary doctor, who gave her his rather startling opinion- according to him the python had not eaten for months  (pythons eat only a few times a year) and was slowly and methodically sizing her up for the purpose of swallowing her as a meal. In utter fright, she got rid of her pet

All moviegoers know that every American cowboy had his ‘faithful steed'( favourite horse)- for example, Gene Autry had championed, the Lone Ranger had Silver, Roy Rogers had Trigger, Tonto had Scout William Hopalong Cassidy had Topper. And everyone knows that an Arab has a camel.

THE HEALING TOUCH OF PETS
Gene Autry

It has long been known that a pet can make one feel good, but new evidence shows that a dog or cat or rabbit can lower blood pressure, prevent a heart attack or toughen one’s ego. Recent findings indicate that the good feelings pets produce can go deep enough to improve mental and physical health dramatically.

Professor Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania is the scientist who carried out the most intensive and exhaustive research into the relationship between pets and humans. According to him, and his group who investigated the effect of pet ownership on human beings, pets can increase well-being in seven ways in reducing depression and anxiety.

First, pets are a source of companionship. 

Secondly, they provide something to care for—a chance for people to become busy and involved. 

Thirdly pets somehow seem to make adults appear more attractive and acceptable. 

This results in a decrease in isolation by making social contact easier.

Fourthly, animals are lively and interesting to watch, whether in the house or in the zoo or even in the movies. They take people’s mind off their troubles.

Fifthly, pets make people feel safe by banishing their loneliness. 

Sixthly many pets especially dogs, are a stimulus to exercise, thus increasing physical well-being. 

Lastly, it is an enjoyable experience to touch and fondle pets. There is reason to believe that tactile contact lowers blood pressure and anxiety levels more efficiently than verbal contact alone

Kathcher along with two others studied the relationship between pet ownership and survival after coronary disease in a group of 92 heart patients. Fifty-three patients had pets; the rest of the patients with similar medical histories had none. Among the latter group, 11 patients died of cardiac-related diseases within a year. Among the former group, only three died due to cardiac-related causes within the same period. 

The suggestion that pets can prolong life seems to be supported by other findings as well. Single people appear to get sick more often and to die earlier than people with lifelong companions, leading scientists to believe that bonding between animals and people can be equally important for health and longevity.

In another study undertaken by Katcher and some colleagues, the blood pressure of dog owners was taken at different stages; for instance, while they were at rest away from their pets,  while they talked to and fondled their pets, and while read alone to an experimenter (reading aloud or talking to another person generally raises the blood pressure). They found that the blood pressure was significantly lower when subjects were talking to and fondling their dogs than where they were talking to people or resting.

THE HEALING TOUCH OF PETS

Yet another study, conducted in Baltimore involved children and a dog scientists recorded the blood pressure of the children as they rested, then read aloud, first with the dog in the room than without the dog. The blood pressure was lower (irrespective of whether the child was resting or reading) when the dog was in the room, though the children never touched the animal. Dr Katcher and another colleague also found that gazing at fish in an aquarium could lower the blood pressure, inducing a kind of relaxed state. While watching an empty tank itself appeared to be a soothing pastime, watching a fish-filled tank was immensely relaxing.

While pets appear to keep adults sane and healthy, they also help children learn to be more fully human. Caring for a pet helps children release the tensions generated at home and school. Looking after an animal sometimes involves foregoing one’s own comforts and tolerating inconveniences. Children taking care of pets learn to tolerate stress, defer pleasure, develop trust in their own ability and handle unpleasant but necessary tasks.

THE HEALING TOUCH OF PETS

Acceptance of responsibility in the care of a pet eventually leads to an acceptance of responsibility for establishing meaningful and satisfying human relationships. Urban youngsters who have failed to achieve harmony at home and school are referred to a special school for mentally disturbed children in Brewster, New York. Forty per cent of the school’s activities revolve around its farm centre where there were animals. Establishing a relationship with animals in this fashion proved to be the first step in establishing relationships with people( while caring for pets, children shed their ‘loser’ image, develop empathy, selflessness, responsibility and, most important, self-esteem). One violent, 11-year-old had no idea what a rabbit looked like when he first came to the school. The child not only took care of the pet but also raised it to be a trophy winner in a local show, thus deriving enormous satisfaction from his achievement.

THE HEALING TOUCH OF PETS

Similar trends have been noticed elsewhere too. A few years ago in an institution for the criminally insane in Ohio in the United States, the attempted suicide rate was found to be 85 per cent except in six wards, where the inmates raised pets as part of a therapy programme. In those wards, not a single inmate attempted suicide. In fact, when a riot broke out in a recreation room, several expensive times of furniture including a billiards table and television sets and lights and sports equipment were smashed totally beyond repair, but an aquarium with fish was left untouched and intact! At a house for alcoholics in southern Connecticut, each patient was given a pet dog to care for. One young man was deeply touched by the animals’ non- judgemental acceptance which made all the difference to his own treatment. Thus, all over the world doctors, psychologists and therapists are beginning to acknowledge the curative power of pets. 

The moral of the story – the next time your son or daughter wants to keep a dog as a pet give your consent enthusiastically. 

THE HEALING TOUCH OF PETS

I confess that I used to hate dogs. My son who now lives in California acquired a pet dog last year, whom he named Spartacus.

My wife and I went to visit them last year.  During our stay there, my wife and I found ourselves enjoying his company – his unconditional love for my son, and his wife, his affectionate nature which made him accept us as part of the family, and his innocent pranks won our hearts.

When we left California for India, we were naturally sad as we usually are while a parting company with my son and his wife. 

But then this time there was an additional reason- Spartacus !

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