When I went home for Thanksgiving, I was once again reminded of how much I love my dog.
His name is Han Solo — yes, like the swashbuckling space-hero of “Star Wars” fame — and my mother, brother and I adopted him not too long after my dad passed away about two years ago. It took some convincing in the beginning, but now he is truly part of the family, and sometimes I can credit him as being the only thing that can keep us all sane.
So when I thought about this and about how awesome my dog is in general, I grew interested in pet ownership as a whole. Does everyone love their pet this much or am I turning into some kind of creepy dog lady?
As it turns out, many people have discovered the benefits of pet ownership and some even started to study the effects on their human companions. The benefits range from increased opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization, to decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and depressed feelings. But their amazing powers of companionship do not end there.
Dogs in particular have been a topic of debate and study in the medical world of late. One Japanese study has shown that pet owners have 30 percent fewer doctor’s visits than non-pet owners do.
Dogs are already used to help the blind and deaf, and people who are handicapped in other ways. More recently, dogs have been trained to accompany and assist returning soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other trauma-related conditions.
Perhaps more radically, there have even been instances of dogs warning their owners of danger to be an immeasurable health benefit. Some doctors are looking a little closer and, according to a study in 2006 by the medical journal Integrative Cancer Therapies, even ordinary house dogs have been shown to be able to sniff out cancer in patients through smelling the patient’s breath.
Although the study was limited to dogs discovering breast and lung cancer, studies are continuing to question if dogs may also be able to also detect other forms of the disease, like ovarian cancer and leukemia.
Even if you do not want to get a dog with the express purpose of sniffing out cancer or treating behavioral and emotional problems, dogs (and I suppose cats too) are wonderful friends. The unconditional love, support and caring, as well as their dependency on their owners, combine to make pets the ultimate companions.
They do not judge or criticize, they don’t have expectations and they don’t hold grudges. They may also help you live longer. But whatever your reason is for getting a pet, I guarantee that you would not regret it.
And of course you get to pick their name, and since you don’t have to worry about them getting picked on, you have a blank slate to name them Sparkles or Captain Jack or whatever other geeky, stupid, silly thing you can think of.