I have written about my dog Lucy quite often in the context of how pets are good for our health. I plan on expanding on that a bit right now. We know from studies that pets help us in a variety of ways.

  • They calm us down and help us to feel better. Studies have found that within 30 minutes of hanging out with a pet, a calming effect takes place. In addition, they boost serotonin and dopamine, our feel good hormones.
  • Part of the reason that owning a dog provides health benefits is that they keep their owners moving. Researchers at Michigan State University found that 34% of dog owners are more likely to be fit by walking 150 minutes per week than non-dog owners. The quality of their exercise is better as well. Even after walking the dog, owners increased their leisure time physical activity by 69%.
  • Dogs prevent allergies and autoimmune disease in children. Scientists at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that children from families with a history of allergies are less likely to develop eczema and asthma if they grew up with a pet dog at birth.
  • Dogs are great for breaking the ice, learning and becoming more social. There are dog parks where people hang out together and training classes. Children who care for a dog have greater levels of empathy and self-esteem. In a recent study, children who practiced reading to a dog had a 12 percent improvement in their reading skills over a ten-week period compared to children who did not read to a dog.
  • Chronic disease is improved by owning a dog. Dog owners have lower blood pressure, less pain with diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and they have fewer signs of heart disease. Dog owners have lower cholesterol and fewer heart attacks. In general, they have fewer medical problems overall. Sorry cat lovers, but according to a British researcher, dog ownership provides better health benefits than cat ownership.
  • Dog owners over the age of 75 get a break on the amount of health insurance they pay from a large insurance company. They realized that caring for a pet improves exercise and provides companionship, which keeps people healthier.

There are so many things that pets; dogs specifically have provided to me as a pet owner. Lucy was not the easiest dog to live with when we first adopted her. She came from the pound, having run away from 2 previous owners on multiple occasions. She took a while to train. She was out of control and had what I would call doggie ADHD. What I learned from Lucy, however, was that with love she could change. That is what we gave her, lots and lots of love. It transformed her. In return, she gave it back in spades.

She died last week. She had a large sarcoma of the tongue that was not visible until she died. It was so large, I am surprised she was able to live and be comfortable for as long as she did. I believe that her love for us is why she kept going. That kind of power is transformative. She helped me to understand that in life, love and connection is everything. A recent study of Harvard graduates that has been ongoing now for 75 years found that same thing.   My little Lucy could have definitely taught them all a thing or two about what took them years to figure out.

As hard as it has been to lose her, I will go ahead and do it again. I will launch into raising another rescue because it is such a wonderful experience. For me, it is essential for health, and I have a feeling there are more lessons yet for me to learn from the canine world.

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
Roger Caras (photographer and writer)