By Wasim Kakroo and Syeda Asma
“A pet is an island of sanity in what appears to be an insane world. Friendship retains its traditional values and securities in one’s relationship with one’s pet. Whether a dog, cat, bird, fish, turtle, or what have you, one can rely upon the fact that one’s pet will always remain a faithful, intimate, non-competitive friend, regardless of the good or ill fortune life brings us.”
This statement by American child psychologist Dr. Boris Levinson will resonate deeply with anybody who loves animals.
The relationship between animals and humans dates back to the centuries. Animals were domesticated by the humans 15,000 years back for their services like hunting, farming, guarding and other routine activities, but over the time animals especially dogs became close companions to humans because of their social behavior, so both of them were benefited mutually. Human beings also developed a special interest in rearing pets very long ago and in this regard cats and dogs have been preferably reared for this purpose since the time immemorial. Animals have evolved to be highly sensitive to us, our behaviour, and our emotions. Dogs can comprehend many of the words we speak, for instance, but they are much more adept at reading our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. A loyal dog will also peek into your eyes, just like a close human companion would, to assess your emotional state and attempt to comprehend what you are thinking and feeling.
Health Benefits of Pet Rearing
The majority of pet owners are aware of the instant benefits that come from having pet animals in their lives. Though many of us are still unaware of them, cuddling with a furry buddy can also have positive effects on our physical and emotional health. Only recently have studies started to look into the advantages of the bond between humans and animals from a scientific standpoint.
Pets, especially dogs and cats, can help reduce loneliness, lower stress, anxiety, and depression, promote liveliness and exercise, and even enhance cardiovascular health. Children who take care of an animal tend to be more secure and active as they grow old. Pets may be a vital source of companionship for senior citizens. But most importantly, having a pet in your life can provide you true happiness and unconditional love.
Owning a pet has been shown to elevate mood, decrease blood pressure, reduce triglycerides and cholesterol in elderly patients. Research has shown that pet rearing increases levels of endorphins and oxytocin hormone both of which offer anti stress effects. Moreover, it reduced levels of stress hormones, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, the increased levels of which could otherwise put a person at high risk of cardiovascular and kidney diseases. Pets responding to the commands of their owners give them a sense of pleasure and feeling of satisfaction by release of the hormone “dopamine”. Pets have also been shown to be of great support and an important part of the healing process for people who have experienced trauma or abuse in their lifetime. Studies have shown that pet owners perceive their pets as a supportive part of their lives and this perception seems to have a positive impact on behavior of the individual. Bonding with the pets not only helps reduce stress but also aids in mental and emotional balance. Positive interaction with the pets helps in developing positive social interaction skills, enhances communication skills, increases motivation for exercises and walks, improves social bonds, and these together could help in gaining good physical and mental health.
There is no denying the fact that humans and animals share a special bond, and it is this bond that inspired the development of animal-assisted therapy (AAT), which proposes that animals can support people in coping with or recovering from specific medical illnesses. This use of animals to assist people in coping with and recovering from a variety of physical and mental health disorders is also known as pet therapy.
In fact, American child psychologist Dr. Boris Levinson (whose quote we referred to in the beginning of the article) was the one who initially brought up the concept of AAT in the 1960s after observing that he could better connect with a reclusive 9-year-old kid whenever his dog, Jingles, was there. The presence of Jingles, whom Dr. Levinson referred to as his “co-therapist,” allowed him to succeed where other therapists had failed by winning the boy’s trust. Dr. Boris later published his work in a paper entitled “The dog as a Co-therapist”. Since then it has become a part of psychotherapy and has helped many tackle various health issues like cardiovascular disease, psychiatric disorders such as depression, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, and even the emotional aspects of diseases such as cancer.
Pet therapy is a broader term which includes animal assisted therapy and animal assisted activity. Animal assisted therapy is goal oriented therapy that is used as a part of psychotherapy to help patients combat psychological disorders, physical pain and other health related issues whereas animal assisted activity has the general purpose of providing enjoyment and comfort to the animal owners.
Nowadays, the concept of pet therapy has come into vogue globally, although it was popular in European countries earlier. While dogs and cats remain the preferred choices, horses, exotic birds, reptiles (turtles), and fishes are also on the cards.
The Responsibility of Having a Pet:
Despite the propitious effects of animals as pets, certain factors need to be considered before animals are used for pet therapy.
Owning a pet requires a significant commitment that will last for the whole of the animal’s life, which for dogs may be 10–15 years. And when that commitment is over, you’ll have to deal with the sorrow and loss that come along with losing a cherished friend.
Some of the other costs of pet ownership include:
1. Pets are expensive: It can add up to pay for food, veterinarian care, licenses, grooming, toys, bedding, boarding, and other upkeep charges. It could be difficult to manage the cost of pet ownership if you’re elderly or unemployed and on a fixed income.
2. Pets need your time and attention: Coming home to a dog that has been left alone in the house all day is hardly therapeutic, as any dog owner will attest. The majority of other pets need at least daily care and attention, whereas dogs need daily exercise to keep calm and balanced.
3. Owning a pet can reduce some of your social engagement: There are temporal limits on how long a dog can be left alone. You can take your trained dog with you to meet friends, run errands, or simply sit outside a coffee shop, but you won’t be able to take a last-minute weekend getaway without making prior arrangements for pet care.
4. With pets comes responsibility: Taking care of pets is necessary. All dogs, regardless of size or breed, have the potential to hurt people if their owners don’t treat them with care. Cats are also capable of biting and scratching. Owners of pets must be vigilant for any hazard, especially when around children.
5. Possibility of pet allergy: An allergic reaction to proteins in an animal’s skin cells, saliva, or urine is referred to as a pet allergy. Sneezing and a runny nose, which are hay fever symptoms, are also indications of pet allergies. Wheezing and breathing difficulties are two other symptoms of asthma that some people may encounter.
The idea of pet therapy is still in its infancy in India because of the reasons like lack of awareness among the people, religious and cultural beliefs, expenses on the pets and lack of trained therapists who would use pet therapy. Moreover, people are not yet mindful about the rights of the animals after owning them such as timely vaccination and primary medical care whenever required to the owned pets. We can largely benefit from the therapeutic effects of pet rearing if we approach pet rearing in scientific ways that comes with greater responsibility and respect towards animal rights.
- Wasim Kakroo- The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar) and works as a consultant clinical psychologist at Centre for Mental Health Services (CMHS) at Rambagh Srinagar. He can be reached at 8825067196. Syedah Asma Andrabi- The author is Ph.D scholar, Division of Veterinary Pathology SKUAST Jammu. She can be reached at [email protected], 7889672095
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