Four-Legged Stress Relievers
The benefits of pet ownership are many
The “Pets Edition” of Tallahassee Magazine is one of my favorite issues of the year. For three years running, we have reserved our May/June cover for the winner of the Tally Top Pet competition, who is determined by readers casting votes in response to photos that we post online.
Like the NCAA Basketball Tournament conducted in March, what we might call Bark Madness begins with 32 contestants. Rounds of balloting narrow the field to 16, then eight, four and two before the overall winner is declared. Voting is brisk. This year, we counted 5,648 votes in total.
We called upon Dave Barfield, who specializes in portraits, to photograph our canine cover boy, Surf Dog, a Wakulla County wanderer until he finally settled down in his forever home with owner Ivanhoe Carroll. Dave is a master at capturing a dog’s best side and character in images and also photographed the other members of the Final Fur at the offices of our generous contest sponsor North Florida Animal Hospital.
Tally Top Pet proceeds go to Be The Solution, a nonprofit whose spay and neuter programs are helping Tallahassee get a handle on the unwanted pet population problem.
If you own a dog or cat, you are at least generally acquainted with the healthful benefits of pet ownership. Specifically, according to the Animal Health Foundation, they include …
» More physical activity: Sixty percent of dog owners who take their dogs for regular walks were considered to get regular moderate or vigorous exercise based on federal standards.
» Reduced stress levels: Cortisol is a hormone activated by stress, and studies have found that being around animals can decrease cortisol levels. For this reason, many offices are starting to allow employees to bring dogs to work, and some universities are letting students borrow dogs during stressful times of the year.
» Lower blood pressure: A study of stockbrokers found that having a cat or dog helped lower the spikes in blood pressure that happen when a person is stressed. Another study of hospitalized heart patients found that dogs decreased the patients’ blood pressure by about 10% in the left side of their hearts.
» Lower risk of heart attacks: Studies have found that people with cats were 40% less likely to have a fatal heart attack. It’s unclear whether the cat’s calming effects make the difference or whether people who choose cats as pets are less at risk for heart disease to begin with.
» Alleviation of depression: The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes animal-assisted therapy as a treatment for depression and other mood disorders. A pet requires its owner to remain active and can help him or her feel less isolated from society. A pet also remains a trusted companion, even when its owner withdraws from friends and family.
» Allergy prevention: A seven-year study of almost 500 children found that children who were exposed to dogs and cats as babies were half as likely to have allergies and risk factors for asthma as they grew up than those who had no pets. Infants with more than one pet in the home had the lowest risk of allergies.
» Low blood sugar detection:
There are specially trained dogs that have been taught to detect drops in blood sugar by smelling. When they smell a change, they can alert the person before it becomes dangerous.
» Less risk of stroke: Owning a cat cuts a person’s risk of having a stroke by more than a third. Researchers theorize that petting a cat can lower stress or that the type of people who own cats are more stress-free naturally.
Pets are an investment, yes, but what they return to you in tangible and intangible benefits cannot be expressed in words or measured in dollars. Take it from the owner of a brown lab, Stevie Nicks, and a yellow lab, Cody Bear. I enjoy the ROI they provide every day.