Discover the power of the human-pet bond.
Exciting new research reveals a lot about the health benefits that pets provide. For example, one large study in Taiwan examined the results of research with close to half a million participants around the world and found that pet owners are less likely to suffer the ill effects of heart disease. However, the perks of pet ownership aren’t necessarily limited to your interactions with your pet; having a pet in your life may also help you find greater happiness by improving your ability to get along well with other people.
“Pets offer us a different kind of relationship than what we may experience with other people, one filled with unconditional love,” explains Allison White, ACSW, LCSW, CCDP-D, a therapist in St. Louis, Missouri and founder of Wellness Alley, LLC. “And because pets are relatively predictable in their behavior, there’s a lot we can learn about ourselves as we care for them,” she adds.
In her work with people, as well as in training her own therapy dogs, White has seen firsthand how the remarkable human-pet bond can change lives for the better. The four important lessons pet ownership can teach us?
Live in the moment. Pets don’t experience time the same way humans do, so they are constantly present in whatever is going on around them. “By recognizing this ‘be-here-now’ quality about your pet and eliminating distractions so you are able to share those moments with them, you can learn how to be fully present,” explains White. “You can then use that insight to improve your interactions with human loved ones,” she adds.
Have empathy for others. Pets also can be a very stabilizing force in your life because their reactions to whatever is happening are for the most part quite reliable. According to White, learning how to care for a pet takes practice, but in turn your pets can teach you how to conduct yourself with consistency. “That self-awareness and ability to slow down and analyze your own behavior can be a very valuable tool in improving your ability to get along well with other people,” says White.
Take care of yourself, too. Pet owners often describe feeling a strong sense of responsibility. After all, once you have a pet in your life, their health is entirely in your hands. For some, that sense of duty can be a lifesaver. “I’ve worked with people who have learned to overcome serious problems because their pets inspired them to do so,” explains White. “The daily routine of feeding and exercising with your pet can serve as a helpful reminder to extend the same level of care and concern to yourself,” White says. Ultimately, once you start down that path, your human relationships have more room to grow.
Ask for help when you need it. Sometimes caring for a pet doesn’t work out the way you expect it will. “Pet care can represent a tremendous financial burden for some people, especially if your pet becomes ill,” White explains. Finding yourself in a difficult situation where you’re not sure how to proceed offers a valuable opportunity to step back and ask for assistance. “The pet community is wide and generous,” adds White, “so you never know what help you might find unless you take that first step to ask. The responses you receive may surprise you.”