Published: June 29, 2022
Pets are family.
They follow us around the house, cuddle in our lap, sleep by our bedside, listen to our ramblings greet us with enthusiasm, turn us into playful children, and never tire of our presence. We share their photos on Instagram, buy them special treats and presents and take them on vacation - or find a respectable sitter to care for them while we’re away.
Millions of U.S. families include furry four-legged members, and millions more adopted or rescued pets during the pandemic.
“Recent pet ownership statistics show that one in five U.S. households invited a new cat or dog into their home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 23 million people added a furry family member during this time and most have full intention of continuing to care for the pet,” writes Sara Coleman in Bankrate’s “The Cost of Owning a Pet in 2022.”
Add to that list fish, ferrets, rabbits, birds and other animals. What is it about having an animal in our life that makes us feel better?
Health benefits both physical and emotional
No surprise that people who own dogs tend to be more physically active and less obese than those who don’t. But there’s lots of other health benefits to having a pet or regularly being in contact with animals, according to WebMD.
“People who have pets tend to have better levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, compared to people who don’t. The reason for that isn’t clear. Part of it could be the more active lifestyle that comes with having pets,” WebMD reports.
Other studies have found that pets can improve our blood pressure, help ward off heart disease, and strengthen our immunity against allergies.
Researchers have also found that cat owners have fewer strokes and are less likely to develop asthma if exposed to cats as infants.
When it comes to improving our mental health, contact with animals is one of the most effective remedies, as many pandemic pet owners discovered.
“The companionship that a pet offers is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress,” according to the Mental Health Foundation.
Other mental health benefits include:
- Boosting self-confidence
- Adding structure to your day
- Increasing social interaction.
Pets, especially dogs, force owners outdoors at least a couple of times a day, and that means they are more likely to meet and interact with others.
Plus animals can help people feel comfortable meeting new people because they are natural conversation starters. Think about it: What animal lover can pass a friendly looking dog without stopping to give him a pat on the head, ask his name and have a quick chat with the owner?
This helps ease people out of social isolation or shyness says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, on WebMD. “People ask about breed; they watch the dog’s tricks,” she says. “Sometimes the conversation stays at the ‘dog level;’ sometimes it becomes a real social interchange.”
Pet ownership isn’t for everyone
Adopting a dog or cat is easy and usually inexpensive, but pet ownership comes with lots of responsibilities.
Are you willing to rise early and let a dog out? Does your budget have room for pet food, annual vaccinations, boarding while on vacation and other expenses? Do you have space in your house for a litter box, dog bed and toys? What other lifestyle accommodations will you have to make?
Sometimes the answer is foster care. You become a trained volunteer and, when available, accept kittens or other animals needing temporary housing. Contact your local animal shelter. If you are interested in fostering kittens or cats in need contact CATSS (Community Action To Save Strays) in Oberlin.
Or volunteer at an animal shelter or with a nonprofit that involves animals. For instance, Leg Up for Cleveland’s Kids (LUCK) is an urban equestrian program for kids from underserved neighborhoods that uses horse activities to boost confidence and mental wellness.
Also consider pet sitting for a friend. A few days with a dog, cat or bird might be just the physical and emotional boost you need.
At Kendal, home to 22 dogs and 30 cats, residents who don’t own pets often have opportunities to interact with the animals as they walk through Heiser or around the campus.
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In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.
About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.