Humans have shared a unique and special relationship with animals since ancient times. Animals have long provided to humans a source of food, clothing, security, companionship, and transportation that were necessary. Companion animals/pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, monkeys, fish, and birds, besides providing tremendous companionship also have physical, physiological, emotional, psychological and social benefits. Pet ownership continues to be on the rise and more people are jumping on the pet bandwagon, due to security reasons or social/economic status. What is so special about the human-animal connection and why is it so important? The mystery isn’t fully understood, but this relationship nurtures us in ways nothing else can.
A growing number of medical studies indicate that people, who own pets are likely to enjoy a higher quality of life compared to those who don’t. According to the American Medical Association, pets have a role in cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They increase the longevity of patients, who have had heart attacks, encourage psycho-social stability in owners, which further reduces the risk of heart disease. Studies have also shown that having pets around reduces anxiety, stress and depression. For some pet owners, their daily interaction with their pets can actually be more consistent and effective than their interactions with people. While pets cannot be considered as human replacements, there is no doubt of their ability to alleviate feelings of isolation that humans of all ages are prone to.
Some pets act as therapy animals that help the blind, diabetic patients and mental health. They are often used by the armed forces because of their loyalty and intelligence. Having a pet promotes wellness for humans across the lifespan. In many households, where children are the pet’s primary care-givers, in the process of bonding with the pet, they are able to be comfortable in their own skin, and let their guard down. This enables children to love and respect themselves. The pets serve as the silent custodians of children’s secrets and private thoughts. Children who have pets also have better immune systems and are less likely to take days off from school due to illness. They are generally happier, do better in school, more compassionate toward others, and exhibit good manners. For the middle-aged, living in the hectic and fast-paced world of today, owning a pet can actually improve our lives.
Pets don’t care about your race, age, looks, financial status, social standing, religion, and state of health. They simply see you for who you are. Such pets as dogs live an active lifestyle, wanting to take a walk, play and run around outside, thereby providing an excuse for us to be more active and have a good workout. They can also be very entertaining with their amusing tricks and humorous incidents. Animals can do silly and funny things that make us laugh by releasing the feel-good hormones. They can comfort us when we are sick, upset or lonely; they are always there for us. Animals are also shown to facilitate interactions between people. It is now firmly established that being accompanied by a pet, especially a dog, increases the number of positive social interactions, between the owner/handler and other people dramatically by creating a major focus of conversations among passers-by. Pets can also make a person more responsible, manage time better, prudent with money, and generally live a healthier lifestyle.
The instances for sorrow and heartache tend to build up as one grows older such as the loss of a spouse, close friend, ex-colleague, lifestyle, familiar surroundings, physical abilities, importance, and the lack of the opportunity to do meaningful work due to retirement. For senior citizens whose human support systems have been seriously compromised, having a pet can help improve their moral, self-worth, self-confidence as well as improve their autonomy. The elderly and the pet can create attachment bonds of unconditional affection, protection, understanding, companionship and happiness. The elderly will have the opportunity to take care of the animal by grooming, walking, feeding and talking to them, thereby wanting to live a longer life. Looking after a pet makes seniors feel active, wanted and needed. This consciousness of being useful fills them with a feeling of high self-esteem.
Senior citizens are provided with a good reason to get out of bed and carry on with their lives. Studies show that old people live longer when they have a pet in their life. Though the advantages of owning a pet cannot be over-emphasised, but before owning one, it is good to discuss with your veterinarian and experienced owners, who will give you more insight into what the animal species or breed requires and issues that may arise. There are variety of breeds available, from Chihuahuas to the Great Danes and German Shepherd dogs, Siamese to Short-haired cats, and Parakeets to Parrots, among others as well as many ways to obtain them. It is imperative to know how that not everyone can handle a giant breed or a toy breed living within the house, or to choose a pet that suits people. It is good to ensure that one is able to provide adequate care for the animal that one intends giving a home to.
This is because clean housing and feeding are vital as well as the cost of vaccinations, veterinary bills, boarding on a business trip or vacation, and spaying/neutering to prevent unwanted pregnancies, which is another thing to consider aside the life span of the pet one may wish to acquire. The average lifespan of a dog is 10-13 years while that of a cat is 12-18 years. Parrots are the only birds that can live longer than people, with a life expectancy of up to 100 years. However, life expectancy isn’t set in stone, and depends on a number of factors including healthcare, diet, and environment. This knowledge will help prevent an upsetting experience if your animal doesn’t live long or leads one to give up pet due to living situation changes. Also, there is the need to ensure that no one in the family is allergic to animals and it is very important that you check your local laws and with your landlord/neighbours to avoid having to relinquish the pet due to legal issues.
However, there are some health and sanitary risks associated with pet ownership. Animals may harbour certain parasites, which are transmissible to humans. Cats in particular could be infected with a protozoan parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii (causative agent of toxoplasmosis), transmitted through exposure to infected cat faeces, and may be passed through mother-to-child during pregnancy. Puppies may be cute, but if they are not potty-trained, they could litter the environment with faeces, which may harbour parasitic worms. In addition, fungal, lice and other ectoparasitic skin infestations may be transmitted to humans in close contact. Teething is another problem of puppies, therefore, you may end up with torn couches and shoes! In addition, female dogs on heat may spot blood around the house and attract male dogs from neighbouring areas. Bestiality (sexual intercourse between a human and an animal), is an unwanted phenomenon, which is on the rise and may aid the spread of some emerging diseases.
In all, owning a pet requires planning, financial and time commitment. Training an obedient and well-behaved pet behooves on all, and families will have a lot more freedom and fun with an animal that knows right from wrong. Though animals are unable to speak in human language, they do display such strong personalities, emotions, preferences, and loyalty. Their bodies, tails, and eyes tell humans a lot about them. They reflect what they see inside their heads and hearts on the outside. This emotion is typified in a Yoruba saying “Aja to rini to nju iru, to wa rini to ngbo o lohun to ri” meaning; a dog that normally wags its tail at one, but now barks must have its reasons. Some pets are completely loyal to their owners/handlers when it comes to protecting them. Their loyalty can be exemplified in the saying “Ajá ti o sonu, ki i gbo fere ode”, meaning; a dog which goes missing did not listen to the hunter/owner.
While pets are mere domesticated animals for those who do not possess them, for those who do, they are family. Anyone who has owned and loved a pet knows that a pet can be a source of enormous comfort in times of disappointment or grief, and there can be much grief when the pet passes on. They are a recommendation for happiness, fun, friendship, love, work out and better health. One thing I know for sure is that they remain man’s best friend. I hereby dedicate this piece to the memory of “Dearie”, our family pet.