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Better than Chocolate

A Loving Relationship with a Pet

Did you know that simply holding a dog or cat could lower blood pressure? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has collected an abundance of research to support the notion that a household pet can have physical and emotional benefits for the human members of the home they share.

Approximately one in 10 Americans suffer from depression, reports the CDC, and 3 to 5 percent of the country experience generalized anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Holistic practitioners understand the connection between emotional and physical health and advise drug-free solutions, citing the detrimental effects of pharmaceutical interventions for emotional and mental illness.

Boris Levinson, often viewed as the father of the field of pet-assisted therapy, was a pioneer in understanding the human-animal bond. He found that withdrawn children would communicate when he brought his dog, Jingles, to therapy sessions. In 1969 with Gerald Mallon, Levinson co-wrote the book, Pet-Oriented Child Psychotherapy.

Pet lovers don’t need studies to verify the emotional benefits that come with pet ownership. Many pet guardians, proud to call themselves pet parents, enjoy the heartwarming feeling of coming home to be greeted by an excited, loving pet that anticipates and appreciates their arrival; it is human nature to want to be needed. When people have had a bad day or suffered a significant loss or emotional trauma, a snuggle or smooch from their pet will go a long way toward brightening their mood.

In southeastern Wisconsin, a former schoolteacher brings her bearded collie, Begley, to local schools where pre-school children read to the dog, helping instill in them a love for reading. A golden retriever named Marty has helped troubled Milwaukee children to learn to trust again through visits during which the children brush and feed the dog.

Veterinary staff can testify that clinic cats provide much-needed calming to anxious pet guardians while they wait in the reception area to hear their own pet’s diagnosis. Many businesses now allow employees to bring their pets to work, because they recognize the beneficial impact of this relationship on morale and even physical health. In 2009, researchers in Japan reported in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services that communication with animals exerts a positive effect on older adults by increasing their social behavior and verbal interaction, while also decreasing tense behavior and loneliness. They concluded that the elderly should be kept with their pets for as long as possible.

Recently, a number of organizations have been developed to support pet guardians that employ their pets to reach out to others in need of emotional or physical therapy. A few that serve southeastern Wisconsin may be found by visiting the following websites: TherapyAnimals.org/Wisconsin.html, DogsOnCall.org, TheTeachersPetDog-training.com/Therapy_Service_Training.html, HealthHeelers.com, PetsHelpingPeople.org and TherapyDogOrganizations.net/#Wisconsin.

Dr. Jodie Gruenstern
Dr. Jodie Gruenstern, owner and small animal veterinary practitioner at the Animal Doctor Holistic Veterinary Complex, in Muskego, graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and was certified in veterinary acupuncture by the Chi Institute. She specializes in natural nutrition, including raw diets and western and Chinese herbals. For more information, call 414-422-1300 or visit AnimalDoctorHolistic.com.

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