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Mon, Dec. 16

Column: Pets provide health, emotional benefits for owners

Samantha is a 4-year-old blue-eyed beauty with a sweet disposition toward people and other dogs. She’s charming, good-natured, playful, loves scratches, and is responsive to correction and cues. She’s looking for her perfect match at YHS today. (Courtesy photo)

Samantha is a 4-year-old blue-eyed beauty with a sweet disposition toward people and other dogs. She’s charming, good-natured, playful, loves scratches, and is responsive to correction and cues. She’s looking for her perfect match at YHS today. (Courtesy photo)

Pet ownership comes with many proven physical, mental and emotional health benefits - from enhancing social skills to decreasing the risk of heart attack.

Consider a University of Wisconsin-Madison study which found that a pet in the home can lower a child's likelihood of developing allergies by as much as 33 percent. This research, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, shows that when children are exposed at an early age to animals they tend to develop stronger lifelong immunities.

Another benefit of pet ownership is that animals make great icebreakers. Pets provide a means for improving socialization skills, especially in terms of meeting and interacting with other pet owners. Pets can help people who don't have much in common to connect.

Places to mix and mingle with your pet include training classes, dog parks, outdoor cafes, and online.

Many trainers offer group classes where you'll find others trying to master similar pet parenting skills. Dog parks provide an opportunity for you and your dog to play and interact with other dogs and their owners. Just be sure your dog is spayed or neutered, properly socialized and current on vaccinations before introducing him/her into the mix.

Many restaurants with outdoor seating are turning pet-friendly and some even offer dog-specific items on the menu. Online mixers include Dogster.com, Catster.com, BringFido.com and Petpop.com. These popular pet-focused social networking sites provide a fun way to trade tips, trends and more.

Many pet owners agree a pet can fill your heart with love. So it's understandable that a pet should help improve the overall health of that organ. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have conducted heart-related studies on people with pets. They found pet-owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, all of which minimize the risk for a heart attack. For those who already experienced a heart attack, research found patients with a pet tend to have better recovery rates due to a pets' tendency to help reduce or at least control their owners' overall stress levels.

If you're a dog owner who needs more of a workout than walking can provide consider jogging or running, biking, hiking, Doga (i.e. Yoga for Dogs), or agility training (an obstacle course-based dog sport).

Dogs can serve as personal trainers too, if only because they need to be walked daily. According to studies conducted by the Wellness Institute at Northwest Memorial Hospital in Chicago, as long as you're the one holding the leash, you'll reap the health rewards. Research conducted by NIH supports this claim. One study of more than 2,000 adults found that dog owners responsible for walking their pups are less likely to be obese than dog owners who pass the duty off to someone else or those who don't own dogs at all.

Pets are a great way to beat the blues too. Not only do they offer unconditional love, but they also give their owners a sense of purpose, which can be crucial for those struggling with depression. Pets help combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can improve your mood and create feelings of joy and happiness. This is particularly apparent among the sick and elderly who may be on the receiving end of Animal-assisted Therapy (AAT) or Pet-Facilitated Therapy (PFT) - a service many hospitals and nursing homes wisely make available.

When you're ready to take advantage of the many health benefits provided by pet ownership, visit the Yavapai Humane Society to meet our many adoption candidates. Helpful staff is always standing by to help you choose just the right one.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at eboks@yavapaihumane.org or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.

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