Most pet parents - and some research papers - attest to the potential health benefits of inter-species cohabitation. Thanks to those soulful gazes, hearty play sessions and long walks, humans can enjoy reduced overall stress and improved cardiopulmonary health. Best of all, people appear to be happier having a pet in their home.
Our non-human family members also keep us healthy - and, in many cases, alive. One macaw swept down on an unsuspecting burglar who had cornered an Arkansas homeowner and took a chunk out of the burglar’s arm (I don’t have to tell you who wound up on on his knees). Some dogs can “smell” hypoglycemia and sound a loving alarm clock that has kept many a diabetic patient from falling into shock.
If helping us get and stay in the pink weren’t enough, our pets also apply healing balms to our body and spirit when we need it most.
“Willow” is a miniature pony who clomps softly through the halls of the hospital where I work in her form-fitted athletic shoes. Her endearing eyes slay just about anyone lucky enough to look into them while her nuzzles gently coax more effort out of just about any patient on the rehab ward. I have no doubt that many patients left the hospital sooner than expected because of Willow. At the other extreme, Willow was also one of the last living beings to grace the presence of several terminally-ill patients.
Now let me tell you about a certain patient much closer to home - and a special “doctor” who never hesitates to make house calls.
Last week, I got leveled by a one-two-punch. After throwing my back out, I was prescribed a course of steroids which lowered my immune system. I then caught a cold for the first time in five years and developed a hacking cough which caused me to pull my back out again (blah, blah . . .).
I should say that I do not take well to being physically compromised. Just ask my wife or any of my co-workers. My usually “fluffy” aura bristles. I can be quick to take offense and my judgement can be blunted. In short, I feel vulnerable.
At home, I made a concerted effort not to infect my wife: rubber gloves, incessant hand-washing, respecting a five-foot perimeter around her. We spoke to each other through walls, but she felt so far away, At night, my wife kept the door open between our bedroom (where she slept) and living room (where I slept) so we could be “connected.”
For much of this past week, our Boston terrier, Lilly, stuck by me. When she was not sleeping in her plush bed next to the couch, she was draped over my ankles or had her dimpled doggie butt pressed up against my calf. Just when I was about to forget what it was like to feel well (oh, how we take wellness for granted!), Lilly bounded up to me, a rawhide chip clamped between her darling, crooked teeth.
Though in the moment my nose felt like it weighed 10 pounds, I dragged myself off the couch and swiped at her “chippy.” She play-bowed and growled and begged with coquettish eyes for me to tug on her prized toy. Lunging toward Lilly, I “stepped out” of my sickly frame long enough for learn that celebrating life is as much - if not more - a part of “wellness” than the absence of pain and debility.
Getting healthy. Staying healthy. Helping us recover. Being there until the end.
Our pets do not snub us for pre-existing conditions. We won’t be “cancelled” for any reason. Play, exercise and companionship are our only premiums.
An animal companion may just be the best and most affordable healthcare plan there is.