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Gimme Shelter: Animals as the Soul of Home

How do you keep a hyperactive dog busy while you hold your meeting on Zoom?

As a last resort, there are anti-anxiety medications (for the pet or you).  There are electric fences so you can let the dog run free on your property–and highly sophisticated doggie doors to safely let your pet in and out on its own schedule. There are also dog walkers and pet sitters who will entertain your critter.  Alternatively, you can get down on the floor and wrestle with your pooch and that will satisfy him for a while.  If you have a tiny dog this could be fun.  With a St. Bernard, not so much.<

Are there specific health benefits for pet owners?

At the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), a coalition of companies and academics have been studying the health benefits of owning a pet.  We have gathered and organized over 30,000 scientific research papers detailing everything from the benefits to autistic children, soldiers with PTSD, Alzheimer patients, isolated seniors, and kids with learning disabilities. Pets provide so much more than the incentive to get out and walk.  Our website contains a goldmine of stories and research in this area.  Humans who have pets tend to have lower health care costs. By one estimate, people with pets spent over $12 billion less on health care last year than those without pets. Dog owners tend to be more physically active since they take their dogs on daily walks. This is good for heart health. They are also less likely to have high cholesterol and diabetes. From age 50 to age 90, all pet owners have lower blood pressure, pulse pressure, mean arterial pressure, and a reduced risk of hypertension. But it’s not just older folks who benefit.  Concerned that college kids weren’t getting enough exercise—only a third of them move enough every day — we started a program matching students with shelter dogs.   After exercising the dogs, these kids showed improvements in health and fitness, cognitive abilities, quality of life, and mood.

Does having a pet help children, too?

There have been studies by a number of schools including Colorado State Veterinary School and Purdue University Veterinary School —these show improved classroom performance by students who have pets at home.I am Chairman of the Board at Green Chimneys in Brewster, NY,  a school for children with learning disabilities.   Located on a farm and animal preserve, Green Chimneys has been written up in The New York Times, and a few years ago, the kids even appeared in a segment with Mr. Rogers.  Green Chimneys is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. The animals provide inspiration to the children and have a calming effect that has enhanced their school participation.HABRI has conducted research in this area as well.  We learned that kids with ADHD are helped by pets.  These grade-schoolers tend to have better concentration, steadier energy, and be more engaged with other students. In another study, we found that autistic kids had fewer behavioral problems after getting a service dog at home.

What’s the danger of our pets getting the coronavirus?

There is a growing body of evidence that says that animals can’t transfer the disease to humans because it mutates in their systems.  That view may change as more studies are done.  But scientists have found the first dog in America to contract the virus and its owners appear to be just fine.

What pet is sheltering in place with you?

Now that our last golden retriever is gone,  I’ve had the opportunity to get to know our cat a little better. A few years ago my younger son moved and needed to find a home for Mr. Pepper, so my wife volunteered to take him.  We’re always joking that he should join the army and become Sgt. Pepper or go to college and become Dr. Pepper.  While I have never been a cat person, I feel he has been a positive addition to the family.  Mr. Pepper is now 19, and when he passes, I am hoping we will get another dog.

What about the less familiar animals people choose as their companions?

There are a growing number of ferrets, guinea pigs, and turtles, as millennials start families in somewhat restricted quarters.  I do know a few folks with miniature horses.  They are adorable and not as crazy to keep as you would think.  Needless to say, having a sizeable piece of property is a huge plus. More people are also raising chickens as pets, and some companies even make diapers for them.

What about snakes?  Can you shelter in place with your fiance’s boa constrictor without creeping out?

Only if you are blindly and madly in love with your fiancé.  And even then there may be a time limit.  But that’s not the weirdest scenario. My cousin kept a pet alligator in his bathtub when he went to college.  There’s a little bit of love in us for all God’s creatures.

Recommended Reading

  • The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them by Wayne Pacelle
  • From Wags to Riches: How Dogs Teach Us to Succeed in Business and in Life by Robert Vetere and Valerie Andrews
  • Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home — And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals by Rupert Sheldrake.

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Valerie Andrews
Valerie Andrewshttps://reinventinghome.org/
VALERIE is the Chief Storyteller for Reinventing Home, an online magazine exploring how home shapes our culture, creativity, and character. Isabel Allende calls this publication Brain Pickings for the Home—a thinking person’s guide to the well-lived life. Our contributors explore home as a personal sanctuary and interactive hive, and how home contributes to our health, happiness, and productivity. Valerie calls her own features “a mindful approach to home with a Jungian twist” and considers everything from the secret lives of our possessions to how the dust underneath your bed is related to the creation of the cosmos. Reinventing Home is nonprofit journalism at its best—a virtual living room for an enlightened conversation about the way we feel about our nests and the bigger issues that are shaping home today, from technology to climate change. Read more at www.reinventinghome.org

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CONVERSATIONS

  1. Hi Valerie. Thank you for writing/sharing this. This gives me hope. As a longtime rescuer of dogs, I so appreciate all the stories about the ways we need animals and animals need us. LOVE the penguins at the zoo. Love knowing that more people are reaching out and sheltering animals in their home. Do you know Temple Hayes​, the author of Life Rights? She also writes for 360 Nation.

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