How a Pet Can Make You Healthier
This article was published in the Feb., 2014 issue of Enrich Magazine. I am including photos of the magazine issue, and the original, unedited article.
Truly, a pet can extend your life and make you happier. Betty Samson, owner of ASOco (the first company to introduce dog agility in the Philippines) consulted a psychiatrist some 15 years ago. She was worried because her father was old, and his wife, (Betty’s mother) had recently died. The psychiatrist advised her to buy her father a pet.
At that time, Betty was the editor of a magazine called Miscellaneous. She was assigned to interview a dog breeder. After the interview, the breeder gave her a boxer
Betty gave the boxer to her father. She had grown up with a lot of askals (mongols, or street dogs in the Philippines), which her father took care of. But for the first time, her father was given a pedigree dog.
Her father lived past his nineties. He outlived his boxer,
wholasted for 11 years. After that, he seemed ready to go, even though Betty tried to cheer him up with a dachshund. Today, Betty says, “The boxer gave my father 13 more years of life.”
In the Philippines, we have a word for this, “Sagip”, which literally means, “to save.” The theory behind it is that if a dog’s master is ill, the dog will somehow absorb the illness, and in this way, heal his human.
“Sagip” could also apply to the experience of Billy Badilla, owner of Badilla Aviary, which specializes in rare mutations of African Love Birds (One bird costs P100,000.00).
Seven years ago, Badilla was told by his doctor that he had cancer, and he only had two years to live. While undergoing treatment, especially the rigors of chemotherapy, he would spend his entire day on the rooftop, where he kept his collection of birds.
He would check on their food, their eggs, the cleanliness of their cages. In so doing, the pets became his therapy. Badilla believes that the fact that he is still alive and very healthy, five years past his deadline for death, can be accredited in part to his birds.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta states on its Web site: "Pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, feelings of loneliness. Pets can increase your opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, opportunities for socialization."
That’s a long list of benefits that people can get from the love of a pet. Another article on WebMD pointed out the link between depression and healing that can come from the love of a pet.
Dr. Ian Cook, MD and psychiatrist at the UCLA Depression Clinic Program told WebMD, “Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression.”
I experienced this when I was given my dog, an askal that I named Winniechurchill. At the time my mother had a long, lingering illness and it was hard to see her suffer so much for so long. I found myself crying in malls, in the office, at home, and my husband and daughter could do nothing to help me.
However, when an officemate gave me an askal during our office Christmas party, everything changed. I was eager to get up, eager to go home, eager to bathe my puppy (every night, thank God she survived), and eager to hold her in my arms.
The thing is, when people worry about you, they have expectations of you. They want you to cheer up, to get better, and you just aren’t ready for that. Winniechurchill had absolutely no expectations of me, and her unconditional love, was my “Sagip”.
Horses at War
In the book Valkyrie, written by Philipp Von Boeselager, there were many incidents of “Sagip” between soldiers and their horses. These portions of the book were not shown in the movie version which starred Tom Cruise.
According to the author, the horses performed better than machines (when the Nazi’s tried to enter Russia). They could trot longer and faster, and to the surprise of the soldiers, the horses adapted well to the freezing weather. Their hair automatically thickened, and when there was no hay to feed them, they ate the branches of trees, the thatched roofs of cottages, and sucked water from icicles.
More than that, a horse became, to the soldier, his home. The horse carried their clothes, necessities and tents. Soldiers would try, in secret, to whisper their secrets to their horses, as intimacy among soldiers was discouraged.
During battle, when guns were firing and explosions occurred and men were shouting, the horses adapted remarkably and remained exceptionally placid. After a battle, the men would hold their horses, touch them, and show a high degree of emotional intimacy that they didn’t share with fellow humans.
The soldiers remained so attached to their horses that oftentimes, when the birch branches weren’t enough, the soldiers would share their ration of bread with the animal. There was mutual interdependence. The horses counted on their soldier for their care.
Have you ever experienced "Sagip" with a pet?
Pets Aren’t For Everyone
It must be mentioned however, that not everyone can be helped by pets. Some people are uncomfortable with pets and may feel anxious with a pet in the house. They may not be able to afford the cost of caring for the pet well. Also, the person may be so deeply depressed that he or she is simply incapable of giving the pet the care that it requires.
Bear in mind, however, that pets aren’t limited to cats, dogs and horses. Birds are less costly to care for and at the same time, they can be extremely loving. Also, maybe you aren’t the snuggling type. But having a turtle to care for can be a mood lifter. And studies indicate that looking at fish can calm you down and ease tension, according to Helpguide.org.
Recently a neighbor moved to a rural area after living in the city most of her life. She found love from a most surprising source – a chicken. The chicken showed a surprising degree of personality and was highly entertaining. What’s more, in the afternoon when my friend and her husband would take their daily walks around the neighborhood, the chicken would follow them without even having to be leashed.
I was rather surprised by this, so I googled chickens as pets. And guess what? If you want to keep your chicken indoors, there are YouTube videos that teach you how to make chicken diapers.