Many pet owners say that that their animals provide company, happiness, and other emotional fulfillment.
“Being around dogs can have a calming effect,” pet writer Maryann Mott reported for National Geographic News a few years ago. “Studies have shown that physiological changes occur when people touch dogs: a drop in heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduced stress.”
In a separate news story, Lara Suziedelis Bogle reported that “therapy dogs” seem to boost the health of sick and lonely people. “Most people are familiar with dogs that assist their blind or otherwise disabled owners,” Bogle wrote. “Therapy dogs offer a different kind of help. Some pay informal social visits to people to boost their spirits, while others work in a more structured environment with trained professionals like physical therapists and social workers to help patients reach clinical goals, such as increased mobility or improved memory.”
This fall, the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) will explore the many ways animals benefit people of all ages. The opportunity to do this will be at the International Society for Anthrozoology and Human-Animal Interaction Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Lowers blood pressure, encourages exercise, improves psychological
health–these may sound like the effects of a miracle drug, but they
are actually among the benefits of owning a four-legged, furry pet.”
“Lowers blood pressure, encourages exercise, improves psychological health–these may sound like the effects of a miracle drug, but they are actually among the benefits of owning a four-legged, furry pet,” ReCHAI said in a statement about the conference.
“Research in this field is providing new evidence on the positive impact pets have in our lives,” said Rebecca Johnson, associate professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, the College of Veterinary Medicine and director of ReCHAI. “This conference will provide a unique opportunity to connect international experts working in human-animal interaction research with those already working in the health and veterinary medicine fields.”
In 2008 ReCHAI sponsored the “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound and Stay Fit for Seniors.” In the preliminary program, a group of older adults were matched with shelter dogs, while another group of older adults were partnered with a human walk buddy. For 12 weeks, participants were encouraged to walk on an outdoor trail for one hour, five times a week. At the end of the program, researchers measured how much the older adults’ activity levels improved.
“The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking
capabilities by 28 percent…The older people
who walked with humans only had a 4 percent increase in their walking
“The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent,” Johnson said. “They had more confidence walking on the trail, and they increased their speed. The older people who walked with humans only had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities. The human walking buddies tended to discourage each other and used excuses such as the weather being too hot.”
“The few studies that have been conducted suggest that pet ownership may have multiple health and emotional benefits for both children and adults,” said James Griffin, a scientist at theNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “But there has been relatively little rigorous research documenting these benefits and examining how and why they occur. By providing support for this conference and additional research studies, we hope to generate some answers.”
The Human-Animal Interaction Conference will bring together people around the world working on similar projects as ReCHAI, Johnson said. These people include nurses, physicians, veterinarians, social workers, psychologists, physical and occupational therapists, and activity directors.
“Today, pets are in more than 60 percent of American homes,” said Charlotte McKenney, assistant director of ReCHAI. “Research involving human-animal interaction can be extremely beneficial. More people are incorporating pets into their leisure time, such as making them part of their exercise routines, taking them to dog parks and bringing them to family events.”