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Puppy Love

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George's eyes sparkled the minute Lucky scampered into the room. Lucky raced to where George sat, and gleefully greeted his friend. George had been a dog trainer before a stroke left him unable to walk or speak.

George's eyes sparkled the minute Lucky scampered into the room. Lucky raced to where George sat, and gleefully greeted his friend. George had been a dog trainer before a stroke left him unable to walk or speak. He gave Lucky a crooked grin then awkwardly extended a hand to pat him.

Lucky was a big golden retriever-yellow lab cross who adored people, especially those who needed him, and George needed him. Lucky sensed this and gave his love generously.

When it was time to leave, Lucky lifted his head from George's lap, placed his big paw on the arm of the wheelchair, and waited patiently for a good-bye paw shake.

The following month, George suffered another stoke and became bedridden. Lucky faithfully continued to visit his friend, snuggling his body next to the bed and pushing his soft muzzle beneath George's hand. Then, one day the phone call came that George had died. With visits to George discontinued, Lucky became morose and mourned for several months. Eventually, he recovered and went on to give his love to other patients in the care facility.

Pets such as Lucky give much more than they receive in pure, unadulterated love, loyalty, and devotion. They are always glad to see us and are ecstatic when we pay them attention.

Dr. Andrew Weil, a founder of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, maintains that loving and caring for pets help us focus attention outside ourselves, and teaches us how to reach out in positive ways to other people. Connection through touch is vital to all human beings, so a child who lovingly strokes a puppy, a kitten, a turtle or any other pet is learning to nurture, and express basic human tenderness.

Anthropomorphism is the act of attributing human forms or qualities to entities that are not human. According to Peter Singer in Animal Liberation at 30: "Despite obvious differences between humans and non-human animals, we share with them the capacity to suffer, and this means that they, like us, have interests".

In 2000, researchers at University of California, Berkeley, reported in the Berkeley McNair Research Journal that there was a direct correlation between the way children learn to treat animals and how they treat people later in life. The study, "Humane Education as an Intervention for the Development of Empathetic Skills in Children" emphasizes that empathy is a necessary base for positive social behaviour, and antisocial behaviour manifests itself in many ways, such as cruelty to animals.

In 2002, a New York study into the effect pets have on cardiovascular health published in Psychosomatic Medicine, concluded: "People with pets perceive them as important, supportive parts of their lives, and significant cardiovascular and behavioural benefits are associated with those perceptions."

A variety of new research into the healing power of pets was released at the tenth annual conference of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO) held in Glasgow, Scotland, last October. Samples of some of the new research results presented at the conference include:

  • Pet owners enjoy better health. Over a five-year period, pet owners made 15 to 20 percent fewer annual visits to the doctor than non-pet owners. Health psychologist, Dr June McNicholas presented study findings in which absenteeism through illness was significantly less among pet-owning children.
  • A study of 500 cat owners aged over 55 revealed that 82 percent found that their cat helped them overcome feelings of stress, and 75 percent sometimes preferred to share their feelings with their cat rather than a partner or a friend.
  • Results of Project Pooch (Positive Opportunities, Obvious Change, with Hounds) showed that 100 percent of teenage offenders did not return to the correctional system following a dog therapy program.

Professor Dennis C. Turner, President of IAHAIO, said: "Without a doubt the quality of research on the benefits of companion animals to our health and well-being…has reached the standard appreciated by other established disciplines. The human-animal bond has indeed 'come of age'."

Certainly, if pets add joy to our lives, and make us feel comfortable or more secure in our homes, scientific proof is hardly required to convince us of their benefits.

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