One night last week, I lay with my smallest dog cuddled and sleeping under my right arm. My oldest cat nestled under my left, curled and purring contentedly. This was, by far, the most relaxing part of my long, stressful day. My mind wandered, as it often does when I allow my body to stop for a minute. With my pets keeping me warm and comfortable, I got to thinking about the health benefits these animals were providing, and about the many animals in the United States that are in need of loving homes. I identified two separate problems, each of which could help ease the other: (1) Millions of people need stress relief and help from anxiety disorders, and (2) millions of pets need homes.
The next day, a little research confirmed my thoughts:
- According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18 percent of U.S. population)."
- Numerous scientific studies suggest pet ownership provides benefits that include the lowering of blood pressure, reduction of stress, and the overall improvement of mental and physical health.
- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that 3 to 4 million companion animals in shelters are euthanized each year (60 percent of shelter dogs and 70 percent of shelter cats).
It's a no-brainer. Adopt a pet and improve your health.
I have witnessed firsthand how animals can ease stress. Two of my dogs are therapy dogs and we visit several hospitals each week. Nurses will call us over when a patient needs to lower his or her blood pressure before a treatment can be administered. Ten minutes of petting the dog does the trick. A nurse once said to me, "Your dog is a miracle dog!" after taking her patient's blood pressure. Although I would like to believe that my dogs are miraculous, the fact is that any dog can have this effect on people. There is something calming and centering about connecting with an animal. Having a dog in a hospital makes the environment less sterile, less scary and more like the comfort of home.
I have had my own issues with anxiety and panic attacks, and my dogs and cats have helped me to stay mindful of the present moment and to push out invasive worries from my head. And, well, they just make me happier. If I leave the house for a few minutes to get my mail from the mailbox, when I return, my dogs are elated to see me. Their external show of profound joy is infectious. It is difficult to focus on negative thoughts when there are four dogs dancing around me with tails wagging.
A cat's purr is a show of pure contentment. As I pet one of my cats and that deep, low rumble starts up from his throat, I smile. If he can enjoy this moment so wholeheartedly, so must I. A cat is a perfect teacher of the art of serenity.
There are so many advantages to pet ownership, but adopting a pet is a long term commitment filled with responsibility. In my opinion, it is well worth it. Finding the right animal for you is much easier nowadays. One of the most comprehensive websites promoting pet adoption from animal shelters is petfinder.com. By typing in your preferences (breed, size, gender, age, etc.), you can narrow down a search and find the perfect pet for you that is in a local shelter and is in need of a home.
There are millions of potential pets waiting at shelters in the United States right now. Take the plunge and open up your home and your heart to one of them, and you will invite better health, joy and contentment into your life.
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