Printer Friendly

Animals are good for what ails you.

Long Huey was one of my favorite patients. Weighing 60 pounds with long body and short legs, he was less than the ideal representative of his long-haired dachshund breeding; yet he was well named both in description and in reference to the flamboyant Huey Long of his Louisiana heritage.

Long Heuey developed terrible allergies, not only to the grass and plants in his environment but to the medications I was using to treat his allergies. Long Huey's "mom" and I spent many frantic moments wringing our hands over the situation.

Long Huey was an only child. His "mom" was a middle-aged divorcee, very professional and chic, who loved Huey more than anything in the world. I would have expected her to own a well-groomed French poodle or a silky Afghan. Long Huey was never glamorous, even when freshly bathed, pedicured and fluffed. Not, Huey was more than a prestigious symbol to his "mom." He was her child, her companion and her therapist. He had seen her through the death of her first husband and a short and ill-fated second marriage. It is only now, seasoned by my own losses and disappointments in life, that I realize the reason for the close bond between Long Huey and his owner.

During my years as a veterinarian, I have seen the human-companion animal bond in action. One elderly man with a bad heart condition owned a bulldog who suffered from congestive heart failure. The two alternated periods of hospitalization but seemed to recover from each episode in order to take care of the other. Unlike Huey and his owner, these two appeared to share the same physical characteristics, owner and pet looking alike.

I was once puzzled by an owner's attempts to keep alive, at all costs, a terminally ill cat suffering from feline leukemia. I later discovered that the cat belonged to a child suffering from a similar cancer.

I have seen people adopt an ugly, shy runt because they identified with the "underdog" quality of the pet.

Throughout the ages, the bond between people and their animals has been strong. One hundred years ago, a native American, the Indian chief Sealth, said, "What is man without beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die of great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beast also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth."

Pets can satisfy our growing needs for touch and companionship. Long-liness has become epidemic in the United States. Jobs take us across the country or beyond and disrupt our sense of "roots." Between 1965 and 1975 the number of single-parent households in the United States increased from 2.5 million to more than 5 million, and statistics for the decade between 1975 and 1985 will reveal even more such households. The fastest-growing population segment in the United States today is composed of those more than 65 years old. This trend creates a population more likely to suffer feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Pets help alleviate loneliness for many people. They help us cope with life and the disappointments we all experience. Often we can do little to alter the situation existing with a spouse, parents or children, but our animal friends rarely withhold love if we do poorly on the math exam, fail to receive a job promotion, burn the dinner or become old, less beautiful or ill-tempered.

Scientific studies have proved that when people speak to people, their blood pressure usually rises, but when people speak to pets, their blood pressure remains the same or falls. In other words, talking to and petting animals is physiologically nonthreatening; communication with those of our own species may cause stress reactions.

Another statistical study at the University of Maryland Hospital revealed that pet owners surviving heart attacks had a significantly greater one-year survival rate than nonowners. Dr. Aaron Katcher commented: "There is no question that the presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival for patients one year after hospitalization." Explanations given by the research team investigating survivability: "Feeding, talking to, walking and petting animals are important and petting animals are important and regular events. Pets may serve as 'clocks' by providing a sense of order for people who are no longer working or have the responsibility for scheduled activity." Pets also seem to relieve the depression and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people suffering from chronic diseases.

Pets may not always save our lives as did the cocker spaniel who alerted a family that their house was on fire, but they may help us live longer by making us laugh and by giving companionship. James J. Lynch, a psychologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, says, "Loneliness can hurt in two ways: First, it's clear that long-term emotional upset can alter physioneurochemical processes in the body--that is, one's immune system breaks down and increases susceptibility to disease. Second, loneliness can bring on self-destructive behavior--increased smoking and drinking, for example, or becoming more prone to risk-taking behavior such as reckless driving." Dr. Lynch goes on to offer a solution: "Basically, if you want to find love, you've got to give love. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as getting a pet."

Much has been written in the last few years about the benefits of pets for the handicapped and the institutionalized. A mongrel hearing dog can be the companion as well as the "ears" of an isolated deaf person. The use of horses in the physical therapy of childrn with multiple sclerosis, orthopedic spinal problems and cerebral palsy has resulted in the normalization of muscle tone, improved coordination and improved cardiopulmonary circulation and breathing. Perhaps the best effect of the use of horses is the pride and self-assurance seen on the face of a physically handicapped child who can now go anywhere, normal and strong, on the back of a horse.

Nursing-home residents have been drawn out of their emotional "shells" when interacting with animals. They are stimulated to talk to the pet and to reminisce with others about pets of their own.

Evidence of the human-companion animal bond is everywhere: the six-year-old autistic boy who spoke his first word to a performing dolphin; C.K., our cat, greeting my ten-year-old, Kimberly, as she arrives home from school; the inmate at the state penitentiary whose bird is friend and confidant; a foster child with a rabbit; or a college student with a dog.

I have found that the need to be needed is often irresistible. Pets can fill that need directly or indirectly. Perhaps if we looked past the face of the handicapped child on horseback, we would see the 68-year-old volunteer, a retired widow, leading the horse. Her self-esteem has risen along with the child's. She is needed; she is loved. She has a reason to get up in the morning, and she has something to talk about.

Responsibility is inherent in the human-animal bond. Careful attention to animal species, breed and temeprament during selection of a pet, as well as training, nutrition, sanitation and proper veterinary care, is essential to proper bonding. When we encourage bonding between people and pets or facilitate pet therapy, we must also consider the welfare of the animal.

Many excellent volunteer programs have been created by caring individuals who give their time, expertise and money to help others properly care for their pets and benefit from the human-companion bond.
 a ato help the cat?
 rd D a
 rd D a Jean Steele
 rd D a Newport, Rhode Island
 rd D a
 rd D aDear Ms. Steele:
 rd D a Loose stools or diarrhea is
 rd D aa clinical sign rather than a
 rd D adisease; the condition might
 rd D abe due to one or several causes.
 You
 rd D
 do not mention how long the loose


stools have been a problem or if other signs such as loss of weight or vomiting are present.

Possible etiology includes food allergy, internal parasites, intestinal enzyme deficiencies, infections, toxicities and stress.

If your cat appears to be in good health, you might try giving the cat Kaopectate three times a day and a bland diet such as boned, cooked chicken. If this has no positive effect on the cat, please consult your veterinarian. A physical examination and laboratory tests are indicated. Best wishes! H.E.W. Dear Dr. White:

I am 68 years old and have lived the last five years with my sister and her two old cats. My sister recently died and I must find a new place to live. I do not want to destroy my dear sister's pets, but I dan't find an apartment or room that I can afford that will allow the cats. Do you think I should have the cats put to sleep? Ruby Hubert New Orleans, Louisiana Dear Ruby:

If the cats are in good health and properly vaccinated against rabies and infectious diseases, I would exhaust every possibility before having them put to sleep.

A new federal law, section 227 of the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-181), prohibits owners or operators of federally assisted housing designated for elderly or handicapped tenants from barring ownership of common household pets (such as cats, dogs, fish and birds) by residents unless the keeping of a pet is determined by the owner or operators to be a nuisance or threat to the health or safety of other residents.

Contact your local member of Congress for assistance in this matter. Good luck! H.E.W. Dear Dr. White:

I have wonderful toy poodle named Heide. She is blind and has rheumatism in her back legs, but I love her. My son keeps after me to get rid of Heide because he says I don't take care of her properly and it is cruel of me to keep her. I am 78 years old and live by myself. I don't know what I would do without Heide to talk to. Frances Lonflow Seattle, Washington Dear Mrs. Lonflow:

Contact the King County Humane Society. It has a program to assist low-income elderly who have difficulty providing food for both themselves and their pets. Perhaps you do not necessarily fall into this category, but volunteer programs such as this one will give you help in caring for Heide.

Congratulations on your independence. I am sure that you and Heide are good company for each other. Best wishes! H.E.W. Dear Dr. White:

I teach second grade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am a new teacher and would like to have information about programs available to teach young people to care for animals. Steven Oberlinski Germantown, Wisconsin Dear Steven:

"The New and Gentle Science: A Curriculum for School Children on Animal Behavior and the Human-Companion Animal Bond," by B. Jones, Ph.D., A.H. Katcher, M.D., and A. Beck, ScD., is available at the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19174. A copy of the "rags: Your Pet and You" teacherhs guide is available for teaching purposes. Contact the Delta society, 212 Wells Ave. South Suite C, Renton, WA 98055.

Also of interest, Hill's Pet Products of Topeka, Kansas, announced the award of a $3,000 grant to the People-Pet Partnerships, a volunteer organization at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99163. The objective is to use volunteers to teach humane concepts to elementary school children. H.E.W.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1984
Words:1923
Previous Article:Ride a golden horse.
Next Article:Money.
Topics:


Related Articles
Morris: I'll bring back the magic.
Anthea's snake up the ladder.
54 SEIZED PETS UP FOR ADOPTION; DOGS, CATS REMOVED FROM COUPLE'S MOBILE HOME IN ACTON.
FEATHERING A NEST OF HEALING; WHEN CRITTERS FEEL DOWN, WILDLIFE TEAM PICKS THEM UP.
Plan to ameliorate life-style of farmers.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters