October 26, 2012 – Many years ago my little sister and I were walking home from school when we heard a kitten meowing across the street on a verandah by the front door – a door that never seemed to open. Every strained meow seemed like a fervent cry for help and all I wanted to do was take the kitten in my arms and tell him that everything is going to be OK. Nobody ever saw the people that lived behind the door of that house but I knew that one day we would.
Day after day, my sister and I would hear the kitten meowing and by the end of the week, the colour of the sky surrendered to our sadness. One afternoon we exercised our newly found courage and proceeded to walk up the stairs to the verandah whereupon my sister quickly picked up the kitten. He was a tabby - very tiny and undeniably cute. Seeing my sister's eyes light up and a smile return to her face I yielded to my conviction and said, "I think we should take him home." As my sister kept the kitten warm within her arms, she nodded her head and happily agreed. I reached my hand up towards the knocker on the door, gave it a good, strong rap and soon after a very tall, well-dressed lady with a preoccupied face appeared before us. She looked kind enough - but not good enough to take care of a kitten. "What do you want dearies?" she asked. There I stood trying to control my quivering chin with my sister beside me defiantly determined not to let go of the kitten. I told her that we would be taking this kitten home because she did not know how to take care of him. To our delight, she agreed and off we went with the newest member of our family with nary a thought to ask Mom if it would be all right. We kept our kitten 'Gugsie' (don't ask me where we got that name) in our bedroom secretly feeding him at every opportunity. Eventually Mom and Dad did find out about Gugsie and they allowed us to keep him.
The point of this story is that Gugsie was a member of our family for 16 years and there were countless days and nights when he brought us a tremendous amount of joy, playfulness, warmth, companionship, unconditional love – and understanding. He seemed to know when I was upset or when I couldn't sleep and he would crawl under the covers beside me – patting my face with his paws and purring all my worries away. I loved that cat and I know he loved me.
…sometimes you just need someone's understanding and love without having to say a word.
Emotional, Physical and Mental Benefits
Numerous studies show us that children who live with pets lead healthier and happier lives and dog ownership protects children against respiratory infections resulting in less runny noses, sleepless nights and fewer trips to the doctor. While adopting a pet is a big decision and should be considered carefully the rewards are just too numerous to mention – but I'll try.
- Infants are less likely to show evidence of pet allergies or eczema with a dog in the house and they have higher levels of immune system chemicals.
- A child's physical, social, emotional and cognitive development can be encouraged by interaction with a family pet.
- Pets can facilitate various aspects of emotional development such as self-esteem and a sense of responsibility.
- Pets help us to heal emotionally, physically, and mentally. Scientists are discovering that cats and dogs have a biochemical impact on their owners' body chemistry and therefore help us to fight disease and assist us in coping with chronic conditions.
- Studies show that 55% of people are more relaxed after spending time with their pets and 44% are less worried about specific problems such as job security and finance. Dr. David Lewis, a psychologist at Mindlab said, “Interacting with a dog is a profound and effective stress reducer. It increases feelings of contentment and relaxation.”
- 25% of dog owners said that their dog is their best friend while 1 in 6 women said they confided their deepest thoughts only to their pets.
- Walking the dog is a great way to spend quality time with the family.
- Did you know that petting your cat can reduce your stress and anxiety therefore lowering your blood pressure? Researchers looked at nearly 4,500 adults and found that cat ownership was related to a 40% lower risk of suffering a fatal heart attack.
- A psychologist from Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland stated in the British Journal of Health Psychology that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol and suffer fewer minor ailments and serious medical problems.
- Taking care of a dog often leads to increased physical activity and facilitates the development of social contacts, which may enhance both physiological and psychological human health.
- Physicians have been known to recommend “pet prescriptions” to their patients who are alone and need companionship because they discovered that a family pet can motivate patients to put their best foot forward when dealing with a serious illness.
- Researchers from the University of Missouri found that people who walk dogs are more consistent about regular exercise and show more improvement in fitness than people who walk with a human companion. Walking speed among dog walkers increased by 28% compared with a 4% increase among human walkers.
- If you're looking for a great way to incorporate exercise into your family's daily regiment, a University of Missouri-Columbia study showed that people could lose an average of 14 pounds in one year by walking a dog 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week!
- Children are more likely to approach and interact with another child who is playing with a pet. In this way, a pet can be a catalyst between a less socially outgoing child and other potential playmates.
- A special bond is created between a pet and a child, which is non-judgmental from the pet's perspective and a sense of comfort from the child's perspective.
- Bringing a pet into a familial environment is not a decision that should be made lightly. A commitment is made by the parents as they will be responsible for the pet's welfare and once a commitment is made, the joys and benefits of the relationship between a pet and a child will last for many, many years to come.