There is beauty in the love expressed by animals. In contrast to a materialistic world’s bustle, our furry friends provide a source of pure calm. They tell us “don’t worry”, “I don’t judge you”. Animals do not have ulterior motives; LOVE us is what they do best.
Out of all the animals I have interacted with, dogs are my favorite! I have two Catahoula’s, COCO and Jake; both wonderful with my 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son; both have enjoyed visiting visit seniors in various contexts. Here at the Bridge at Highland we have a wonderful resident Golden Doodle named Bailey (See article picture). As you can tell from the picture, Bailey is well loved!
Bailey, COCO and Jake are not the only dogs I know of that are loved. In fact, according to one source I found, the American Kennel Club® has stated there are more pet dogs in the USA than there are people in Britain.[i] That’s a lot of dogs to love and be loved by – a number I find hard to imagine. Even if this is true it certainly has not always been this way. Prior to the 18th century, dogs were typically kept for hunting and defense and not as pets. The only deviation from that rule would have been cases such as that of the derided ‘lap-dog’, which John Evelyn recorded in his Diary, circa 1684 as a dog fit only for ladies. [ii], The first reference to the dog as ‘man’s best friend’ appears in 1841, at a time when dogs began to be sentimentalized, and to be seen as having, if not souls, then at least personalities and feelings;[iii] possibly due to people living in more industrialized cities no longer needing outdoor working or guard dogs. The introduction of the rabies vaccination in the 1880s likely contributed to the popularity of dogs for pets. Thankfully our society seems dog friendly today.
Dr. Ed Kane, PhD, researcher, consultant in animal nutrition, author and editor on nutrition, physiology and veterinary medicine[iv] lists several reasons why it is beneficial for seniors to have a pet.[v]
- Seniors with dogs go to the doctor less. Dogs are preventative and therapeutic against everyday stress.
- For people aged 65-78, dogs are a major factor of conversations with passersby.
- Companion animals readily elicit friendly responses.
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Pet owners have fewer minor health problems, lower medical costs, better psychological well-being, and higher one-year survival rates following coronary heart disease.
- Pets promote social interaction, decrease the feeling of loneliness and isolation, and increase morale and optimism.
- Pets encourage playfulness, exercise, and promote laughter.
- Pets satisfy the need for touch and to be touched, and give nonjudgmental warmth and affection.
- “Pets Are Just Plain Healthy”- Says Dr. Kane.
In addition to the list provided by Dr. Kane I would include that animals can have an impact on our Spirituality. This concept finds Biblical case in the story of Job. Job, the man in the Old Testament who experienced so much misery once said:
7 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
9 Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.[vi]
Job, in the midst of physical, emotional, and spiritual trial, maintains that, if appeal were made to the animal creation, and they were asked their position with respect to God, they would with one voice proclaim him their absolute Ruler and Director, and as much imply God’s continually directing hand; something a struggling Job must have found encouraging. “Ask the Animals” Job says, and “They will teach you”. I believe the same can be said to us today. We are busy. We are so busy we do not even realize our physical, emotional or spiritual condition. Ask the animals, and they will teach you.
Michael C. Bushey, B.Theol., M.Div., CNA
Director of Spirituality
The Bridge at Highland
[vi] Job 12:7-10 New King James Version (NKJV)