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3 love stories that prove pets are special

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3 love stories that prove pets are special
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Feb 11 2015

It only seems fitting during the week leading up to Valentine’s Day to touch once again on the relationship between humans and pets. It’s a love quite unlike any other, and one that, as you’ll see, is as good for us as it is for our pets.

I’d like to share with you the summaries of three stories/studies I read recently. And while they aren’t your typical love story, I think you’ll find plenty of things that tug at your heartstrings.

The first story has to do with pets and our children. We already know that children who grow up around pets are less likely to suffer from allergies (thanks, pets!), and now we’ve learned that some special needs kids can get extra benefits simply by having a pet. A study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that living with pets may increase the social skills of children with autism. It seems that autistic children interact more with each other when animals are present in the home or other social setting, and the longer a pet has been present in the home, the greater the benefit. Thanks again, pets!

I was also touched by the next two stories for their potential to save human lives. These aren’t the traditional “dog rescues owner from burning building” kind of life saving stories, though. These are a little more subtle, but with the same great outcome.

A newly published study confirms the anecdotal evidence that therapy pets are a real source of comfort to medical patients—in this case, patients who were undergoing intense radiation and chemotherapy for cancers of the head and neck. The study followed 42 patients who were taking these therapies for cancer, most of whom were very sick secondary to the treatments. When the patients were exposed to therapy dogs for 15 minutes prior to their treatments, patients reported that their social well-being improved over the course of the treatments despite the decline in their physical well-being.

I was particularly struck by the patient who reported that he would have ended treatment altogether if not for visits with the therapy dog. The therapy dog quite literally saved that patient’s life. It is a pet’s ability to just BE with a patient and offer unconditional love that sees these patients through tough times. They don’t say a word, but their silent counsel speaks volumes.

It is the story of unconditional love that leads me to my final love story. This one is a little more controversial, because it has to do with people who are down on their luck. In large and small cities alike, people without a safe place to sleep at night cling to their pets in their darkest hours. A lost job can lead to lost possessions and may end with good, hardworking people losing their homes. Imagine losing everything you own and then being faced with the difficult decision of what to do with your beloved pet.

Some people may question the ethics of a homeless person having a pet—after all, it’s one more mouth to feed. But for people who have lost everything, a pet brings much needed comfort, friendship and even protection during long nights on the street. With nothing but what they can carry on their backs, the unconditional love of their pet might truly be the only thing that gets homeless people through another uncertain day. And that’s a pretty special job—many previously homeless people have reported that if not for their pet, they would have ended their lives.

As we hurdle towards Valentine’s Day this year, stop and thank your pet (a kiss or two is also appropriate) for everything their kind does for humankind every day just by putting up with us.