Pet your dog, or someone else’s, today

We’d all like to think we were beautiful babies and maybe we were. But it’s hard to verify the fact if you were born half or three-quarters of a century ago.
Back then, there were no bulging baby books. No instamatic cameras. Little recordings of our cuteness and our spectacular feats.
We learned to walk without a video camera, and to talk without a tape recorder. We opened Christmas gifts without moving pictures. If we’re lucky, we may have had two or three studio shots—all dressed up and looking straight at the camera.
But there were few candid pictures.
However, I do have one especially treasured snapshot. A picture of a tiny girl, less than a year old, sitting on the grass with a huge German Shepherd close beside her.
The German Shepherd was named Tiny and we were twins. Born within a few days of each other, we were bosom friends from the beginning. And I still count myself fortunate to have learned so early what a dog can be to a person.
Sometimes, I think that my wonderful white dog Phoebe may be a reincarnation of Tiny come to me when I needed her again. Phoebe is not a purebred like Tiny was, but Phoebe is part German Shepherd and she has many of Tiny’s traits.
She is a caring, intelligent, well-behaved, polite dog.
There are many reasons to be friends with a dog as you age. Pets for the Elderly Foundation web site (petsfortheelderly.org) cites lots of impressive research on the topic.
Pets lower blood pressure and pulse rate. Pet owners have less depression and are more active. Pets fight loneliness and give you a sense of security, especially if you live alone.
And pets are great therapists. They make you laugh and divert your mind from troubles.
Researchers found 95 percent of senior pet owners talk to their pets and 82 percent said their pets help them when they feel sad (I can understand that, of course, as I always talk to Phoebe).
But best of all, pets can help you stay healthy. Pet owners make 21 percent fewer visits to doctors.
In a New York research project, Dr. Erika Friedmann and Dr. Aaron Katcher tracked heart-disease patients after their discharge from a hospital, studying their medical histories, lifestyles, and relationships.
The researchers reported that, “The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival, not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone—independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings.”
Friedmann and Katcher also found that, among patients who had suffered heart attacks, the mortality rate of people with pets was one-third that of patients without pets.
In his book, “A Year of Health Hints—365 Practical Ways to Feel Better and Live Longer,” Don R. Powell of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine cites five specific ways pets make life better.
A pet gives a person something to nurture and care for, offers a sense of being wanted and needed, gives non-judgmental acceptance, decreases feelings of isolation, and provides a feeling of safety for those living alone.
So if you want to be healthy and happy, pet your dog, or someone else’s, today.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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