The Benefits of Pet Therapy- Part 3
“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things-a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.” ― John Grogan, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog
Pets are not just here to love, they are here to teach us.
When it comes to managing pain, Coco is better (well, equal, maybe) than any prescription medication I take. She is more insightful than any therapist I have ever spoken to, she is smarter than any professor I have ever had and cuddling with her is all the meditation I need.
According to an article on Web-MD,* there are many benefits to Pet Therapy. Among those listed, the article mentions that pets are natural mood enhancers. Apparently your body actually changes, physically, within a few minutes of being with a pet, including a lowering of cortisol (the hormone responsible for stress and an increase in serotonin, that all-important “well-being” chemical. Pets can also lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart attack, reduce anxiety, not to mention increase physical fitness due to that oh-so-necessary walk (in my case, no walk may mean I come home to a throw pillow that was used as a chew toy).
When it comes to depression and pet therapy, the article also mentions that the unconditional love of a pet actually decreases depression and helps decrease isolation in those who isolate as a result of depression. When I feel depressed, I often have the inclination to hide out. I get impatient, I don’t want to deal with people and I don’t want people to see me angry or sad. Having a dog, however, forces me out of the house, at least once a day for her walk. Often times during Coco’s walk, I run into other dog owners and chat, bragging about my baby. Sometimes I even take her to the dog park and that is an immediate mood booster! What better place to decrease depression. I get the social aspect of talking to other dog owners and I get to pet and play with sometimes 10 dogs!
Dogs love unconditionally. Josh Billings said that “a dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” Unconditional love is difficult for humans. As humans, we often put conditions on love, even without meaning to. Coco is different. It doesn’t matter what I do, what I say, if I succeed, if I fail. It doesn’t matter if I am cranky, or happy. It doesn’t matter if I look like crap, or if I gain weight, Coco is there for me, loving me. Sometimes I will catch her just looking at me. Sometimes she will come in bed with me, lie on my chest and just stare into my eyes. That is unconditional love. It doesn’t matter what I have done in my life, to Coco, all that matters is that I am here, and occasionally that I scratch behind her ears and kiss her head.
I often wish I had my dog’s life. She loves unconditionally and she takes pleasure in the simplest things. Getting to go for a walk around the block is a cherished event for which she is eternally grateful. Playing with a leaf that is blowing in the wind is the greatest game and she literally stops and smells the roses (and the grass, and the fire hydrants, other dog’s butts…). She is teaching me, though. I try to look at the world through her eyes. When we go on walks I try to look at the little things that make her so happy (not the dog’s butts though). I am trying to learn to take joy in the little things and, most importantly, I am learning to love without conditions.
There are so many wonderful benefits and experiences that come with owning a dog, but besides all the wonderful health benefits, the most important benefit of having my Coco is that she is teaching me to live a dog’s life!
Rydzy MSW, T. (2013). The Benefits of Pet Therapy- Part 3. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/chronic-pain/2013/11/the-benefits-of-pet-therapy-part-3/