Saturday, February 28, 2015

# 138 Our Best Friends

My talented pet loving daughter-in-law contributed this fascinating piece on animals and I can certainly verify her absolute love for all creatures large or small. After having her in my life for the past thirteen years this entry confirms what a truly compassionate and giving person she is to the two/four/six/eight legged creatures that inhabit our earth.

By Gillian Schauer

Animals make us human…” ~Temple Grandin

If you are not an animal person, I hope this blog is the first step towards converting you…

I am an animal lover – and I mean all animals – not just cats and dogs. This has been true my whole life. My mom tells a story from when I was just three years old that underscores this claim. She was a teacher and wasn’t earning much money at the time, but wanted to treat herself on her birthday. She went to our local grocery and purchased one live lobster to cook for dinner. I named the lobster and played with it on the kitchen floor all day, wrapping its cold, hard crustacean body in doll clothes and blankets. When she took the live lobster from me and put it in the pot of boiling water, the sound the shell made against the steam sounded like screaming. Naturally, I believed this to be a cry of pain and an emotional flood of tears ensued as I mourned the loss of my new pet. My mom said at dinner, even she had trouble eating her birthday lobster.

My family and friends can no doubt attest to countless other stories where I’ve gone out of my way to save animals, including: putting my hand in a fire to save a caterpillar on one of the logs, nurturing back to health a garden snake that was hurt when moving a deck plantar, and stopping traffic on several occasions to let deer, raccoons, and even snakes cross the road unharmed. I may be an extreme example of an animal lover – but I’m betting that some of you can relate – a least a little bit.

So what is this connection we have with animals? Many have suggested that the human-animal bond is one of the most fundamental that humans experience, with numerous symbiotic benefits. As a longtime vegetarian (20+ years!), and a scientist, I have been particularly fascinated by one aspect of this bond -- the healing power of animals.

While the idea that animals can provide healing may sound to some like a new-age hippy belief, there is actually a growing body of hard scientific evidence supporting the animal role in human emotional and physical healing. For example, having a pet or regularly being exposed to animals is associated with lower blood pressure and markers of stress in the general population; help in coping with disease, including Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and cancer; higher survival rates in people with coronary heart disease; improved functioning and mood in people with depression and anxiety; increased physical activity and improved social interaction in the general population; and even relief or distraction from pain in hospitalized patients.

And these benefits are not just derived from having a furry friend to snuggle – there may be chemical and physical changes that occur because of animal behavior. For example, research suggests that the vibrations from cat purrs, which range from 20 to 140 hertz, may be therapeutic to humans – lowering stress, stimulating breathing, and even improving bones and muscle healing. Interacting with animals has also been shown to increase people’s levels of an important hormone called oxytocin, which helps put the body in a healing state and grow new cells.

Data suggest that benefits can come from interacting with all types of animals – from fish and reptiles to birds and mammals. Increasingly, organizations are finding ways that humans can help animals too – creating therapeutic sanctuaries where abused or abandoned animals can rehabilitate, while helping humans to need animal therapy and contact. See here for a heart-warming example. If you already have a pet – give that pet some extra love today. If you don’t have a pet, head to your local shelter or sanctuary to give some love to the animals there. Odds are it will improve their life and yours.

Thanks for reading # 138 of 7777.

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