If you love animals, you may have read about the “human-animal” bond. The American Veterinary Medical Association policy defines it as: “a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment. The veterinarian’s role in the human-animal bond is to maximize the potentials of this relationship between people and animals.”
In other words, having pets makes you feel good, both physically and mentally.
Many medical studies have shown that pet owners have lower stress levels and fewer heart attacks. If you have a dog or cat, you always have someone to come home to and your furry friend will never tell your boss all the horrible things you said after a particularly bad day at the office. It should come as no surprise that researchers have found that petting and talking to a companion animal actually reduces blood pressure.
Many people have told me that if they had unlimited space and money, they’d have more pets. I probably would too. But why do people feel so strongly about their pets? Realistically, having pets is a lot of work. I’ve never seen a scientific explanation why people find pets so appealing. I mean, why is a puppy adorable, even when he’s eating your shoe? Why does seeing a cat snoring in a windowsill make you smile?
The bond that forms between a pet and his humans often happens quickly. Even if a person has only had a pet a few weeks, if the pet gets sick, it can be traumatic because the attachment has already formed. The bond increases over time and people often sink into terrible depression after the death of a pet.
You see your pets every day for 10-15 years. That’s a lot more than many people see their relatives, so it’s no surprise to feel great loss when your pet is gone. Pet loss support hotlines have become more widely available. In the past, people seemed to think that it wasn’t okay to grieve for “just a dog” or “just a cat,” but these days you can even buy pet loss sympathy cards.
Many retirement facilities and hospitals bring in pets for visits or have a pet at the facility. Animal assisted therapy is being used for more health issues than ever before. Guide dogs continue to help the blind, but now assistance dogs also help deaf humans, the physically handicapped, and people with epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and other afflictions. In fact, a recent article in Tuft’s Your Dog newsletter described how an assistance dog is helping an autistic girl control her repetitive actions. In the past, the girl would run and scream in stressful situations, but with the help of her assistance dog, she can now sit quietly and relate better to people.
It’s just more proof that the human-animal bond is special. Every pet is different, but the bond is there.