I have always cared about dogs probably a little more than the average pet owner, however, after adopting a dog this year, I reached a whole new level of appreciation – crazy dog lady. A few weeks ago, my boss brought in a section from the New York Times for me that had various pet related articles, one of which included a story about a service dog and her owner who has anxiety and anger issues. The dog has learned to take cues from her owner when she senses these emotions and take a break to work through the aggression. When I read the story, I thought “wow that dog is incredible”, but also realized that it is not just these certified support and therapy animals who are able to understand emotion and help us cope during difficult situations. Many of us have pets who make a substantial impact on our well-being and happiness, and Henry does just that for me.
Henry, Henry, Henry
Our attachment to Henry was pretty immediate. We believe he is either an American Foxhound or a Treeing Walker Coonhound, and if you know anything about hounds, they need lots of activity. We currently take him almost anywhere he is legally allowed to be because we love having him around. He is a major factor in our daily schedules and while I don’t need to take a dog into account as much as I do, I think it is my responsibility to take care of him as he does for me at times.
I grew up with an understanding that dogs are not allowed on the bed (probably because our black lab was 120 pounds), and while I tried that at first, after a few weeks into the winter that notion did not apply in my house. Henry would jump up and lay next to me with his head on my stomach for as long as I wanted, and it just melted my heart! His story is too long to tell in this post, but it is a good one that spans from being found in the swamps of Florida, underweight and covered in ticks, to being flown here by Alex’s brother New Year’s Eve Day, so I was surprised he took to me as quickly as he did.
“I’ll Have What You’re Having”
Despite the traditional needs of the breed, Henry quickly learned to react and accommodate the lifestyle change that comes when I am not feeling well. I was so excited when he came home to us because I knew it would keep me active, but after his first month, my flare was really kicking and I was really worried I wasn’t giving him enough exercise. Thankfully, Alex is always ready to step in and wear him out when my condition has me feeling down. Having Henry with me when I was home all day ended up being a bit of a blessing. While I am sure it would’ve been better for him to go to the park or daycare, he was fine here with me and I soon realized that it gave me some sense of purpose. I knew that at some point I would have to get up, be somewhat presentable, and take him out of the house, even if it was for just 15 minutes.
I think many of you with Crohn’s or any autoimmune disease can relate, that it is very easy to just stay in bed all day. I have done it many times. Henry not only gets me up and going when I feel like I can’t, but he also makes me laugh, especially during those times when I am upset about what is going on in my body and how it influences my relationships and my career. He has added so much to our lives so far, but most importantly for me, he has provided the companionship I didn’t know I needed when I am alone during a flare. So, what exactly happens in our bodies when we see our animals that makes us love them so much?
The majority of studies I read outlined how caring for an animal released Oxytocin in our body, a hormone that is released by the pituitary gland and is commonly referred to as the ‘cuddle’ or ‘love’ hormone. This is particularly beneficial in stressful situations or difficult times, which is why we see many therapy dogs now being brought in to help victims of tragedies such as shootings or natural disasters to cope, even if it for a short amount of time. While some of these correlations could be more of generalizations, the release of this hormone and ownership of a pet has been linked to lowering blood pressure, decreased anxiety, decreased risk for some heart related issues, as well as an increase in activity level and motivation.
This bond between pets and their owners first began sparking interest when scientists found a correlation between longer life span in heart attack patients who had a pet than those who did not have a pet. While there are many other factors that play into that kind of correlation, isolating these factors alone provided some statistical information that has been elaborated on. Since then, there have been many studies by reputable institutions such as the Research Center for Human and Animal Interaction at The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and have even led to the formation of organizations such as the Human Animal Bond Research Institute.
Are You Just Obsessed with Dogs? No. (Kinda)
The point in all of this being that medication is not the only solution to curbing side effects and symptoms that many of us experience during a flare. While modern medicine has saved many of our lives, we are so quickly given a prescription to combat those symptoms or feelings produced by some of the stronger medication. These supplemental medications can make us either not feel anything so the pain goes away, or creates an artificial sensation that, with a little work, we could get from something natural. While pets are not the only solution, they can offer a number of benefits, which can greatly help many of us struggling to find a purpose or are unclear about what that purpose exactly is.
Shoutout to Uncle Jack & Baxter!