Domestic dogs and humans have been forming intimate bonds for at least 15,000 years. The moniker “man’s best friend” grew out of the fact that dogs are so well adapted to living with human beings that the owner often replaces the pack and becomes the dog’s primary social partner.
The National Institute of Health in conjunction with The Waltham Petcare Science Institute is funding a range of studies focused on the relationships we have with animals.
These studies have shown that:
Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood. Everyone from older men in a veterans hospital who were exposed to an aviary filled with songbirds to depressed college students who spent time with dogs reported feeling more positive.
One study found that dogs can help children with ADHD focus their attention. Researchers enrolled two groups of children diagnosed with ADHD into 12-week group therapy sessions. The first group of kids read to a therapy dog once a week for 30 minutes. The second group read to puppets that looked like dogs.
Kids who read to the real animals showed better social skills and more sharing, cooperation, and volunteering. They also had fewer behavioral problem
Sure enough, studies show that the unconditional love — and oxytocin boost — of a pet can help remedy the flashbacks, emotional numbness and angry outbursts linked to Post traumatic stress disorder. Even better, there are now several programs that pair specially trained service dogs and cats with veterans suffering from PTSD.
It can be too challenging for traumatised people to relate to other people as they are frightened of them and get triggered into painful states but they often find they can experience love and connection with animals.
However despite all these positive outcomes, many users of the Project have been unable to have their own pets
They might be housed in buildings where animals are not allowed. They may well go through periods of homelessness
Being traumatised, they might also be worried about being able to take on the responsibility of having a pet. If they can’t look after themselves how will they care for another being?
Because of this we have service animals at the project so that participants get to have time with the animals there and also have supervised home visits. This builds their ability to experience safety and trust with another being as a halfway house to building trust with other participants and project workers.