Part 2: Pets (erm, greyhounds) as therapy.

May 19, 2017

This week, Dave donned a monocle and spoke (in secret dog lingo) to Professor Anna Chur-Hansen from the University of Adelaide about pets and their impact on human health.

In other woofs, why animals make life better.

We like to pretend that Professor Anna has a special interest in greyhounds, pinning them as the perfect pup based on irrefutable scientific fact. But, alas, her research covers all breeds - great, small and sniffy. (Guess us greyhound tragics will just have to #dealwithit.)

The exciting part for dog lovers? Evidence links canine companions with everything from improved cardiovascular function to psychological wellbeing and community connection.

(Hey, we witnessed it for ourselves this week in Rundle Mall. Did you come along to GAPSA clinic and get your hound fix? Check out snaps from the day, here.)

But how exactly do animals improve health? What does the science say? And most importantly - how do we make sure pets receive benefits from their humans, too?

Check out what Dave learned from a dog-lovin’ Professor of Psychology (plus, some considerations that might surprise you).

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

The first thing Professor Anna wants us to know is that pets deserve our respect.

Rather than viewing them as bottomless wells of benevolence, it’s vital that the benefits go both ways. What’s in it for your dog, cat or fish? Are their needs being met, too? There’s an invisible contract between person and pet that (as Dave likes to remind me at 6:03pm, waiting for his dinner, withering away to a twig) must be honoured.

Any discussion about the benefits of pets starts with respect - and ends with the happiness of both parties.

The short version: be nice to your dog!

Now, what about those perks of life with a pooch?

Professor Anna breaks them down into three main categories: biological (relating to the body and its function), psychological (relating to the mind and emotional experience) and social (relating to relationships and community).

Body benefits

Research suggests that being emotionally attached to an animal encourages your body to release happiness chemicals and endorphins - possibly reducing blood pressure, lowering stress hormones and boosting mood.

As well as that, having animals in the home supports budding immune systems, making kids less likely to experience allergies.

Then there are the obvious fitness perks of parading your fine hound around the streets to be adored and admired (otherwise known as ‘walkies’). Exercise is a natural consequence of having a dog in your life. Add to that fresh air, sunshine and time in nature and you’ve got the essentials for a happy human existence.

Mind benefits

Dave wants you to know that while he’s no psychologist, he can tell when you need a hug. In fact, dogs come equipped with a radar for fragility, melancholy and sadness. (They keep the radar in the tip of their tail and wave it back and forth to detect vibes - positive, negative, treat.)

Professor Anna explained that pets offer purpose, motivation and a reason to get up in the morning. For many people, a pet becomes their #1 confidante, someone to come home to, a non-judgemental and unconditionally accepting BFF.

Didn’t comb your hair? Who cares!?

Forgot to iron that blouse? What of it!?

Skipped deodorant on a 40 degree day, spent an hour outside spreading compost and stepped in something slimy? YOU SMELL AMAZING! (Would it be weird if I licked you?)

Animals don’t care what you look, smell or sound like. They don’t give a hoot how much money you make (except owls). Your car is irrelevant and your football team is moot (except to crows).

All that matters is that you exist.

This interspecies connection is priceless - a free and natural pillar of support for people feeling low. Professor Anna has heard clients say: ‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my dog/cat/lizard’.

Relate?

And this benefit isn’t limited to ‘crazy cat/dog people’ either (a stereotype Anna urges us to avoid) - anyone and everyone can derive psychological benefits from loving - and being loved by - an animal.

Social benefits

More than ever, we FaceTime rather than face people in real time. But if you have a dog? It’s more likely you’ll step outside, smile at passers-by, strike up a convo at the park or stroll en masse in the Million Paws Walk.

How often have you remembered the name of a local pooch, but not the owner? Oh, that’s Fluffy’s mum! Or, hey... dad of Digger!

Pets (especially dogs) facilitate friendships and connection, a sense of community and social engagement, factors increasingly linked to health, happiness - even longevity.

Of course, the discussion wouldn’t be complete without a drawback.

Professor Anna reminds us (while gently covering Dave’s ears) that saying goodbye to a pet is a unique type of grief. Finding yourself suddenly without a sidekick can be a profoundly traumatic experience - akin to losing a family member.

This is the part that we know in our heads but protest with our hearts. Life without Dave? (Or Steve, or Frankie, or Jett, or Flora, or Roxy, or Pepper, or Bullet?) Impossible!

But vulnerability may be the most bittersweet benefit of all. Being a big old softie, babbling to your hound in baby voice, doing anything for that animal is a beautiful thing. Ask any pet owner, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you, hounds (and other gracious companion animals) for making our lives better.

We strive to do the same for you! (And, by the looks of those happy people and adopted hounds this week, inordinate amounts of love are on the way.)

A very special thanks to Professor Anna Chur-Hansen for sharing her time and wisdom with us.

Talk to you next week, greyt mates.

Catie + Dave

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