Modern medicine has a new ally. Dogs! Research is demonstrating that our furry friends are good for the body, mind and soul.
Lucky Dog, a show that airs Saturday mornings on CBS, stars trainer Brandon McMillan. On the show, McMillan rescues dogs from Los Angeles-area shelters and pairs them with new owners. Two pairings had health-related circumstances. Cameras followed a woman and her son, who had been diagnosed with ADHD, to a doctor’s appointment. To the woman’s surprise, instead of prescribing medication, the doctor suggested the family consider getting a dog. McMillan found the perfect candidate who would provide a calming effect for the boy.
Another pairing placed focus on the fact that dogs can sense when seizures are about to occur. The episode featured a little girl who suffered from epilepsy and received a new lease on life thanks to her new dog (McMillan now works with Magnolia Paws for Compassion, an organization that trains dogs to work with those with epileptic and seizure disorders).
Research is providing evidence that dogs are good for our health. Infants whose homes have dogs have stronger immune systems and are 31% healthier in their first year than are their peers who don’t grow up with dogs. College students are benefitting from programs in which shelters bring dogs onto campus during exam time. Interacting with the visitors has proven to be a stress reliever, for both the students and the dogs. Training dogs for new families or therapy situations has brought a sense of calm, responsibility and fulfillment to prisoners who are participating in programs such as Prison Pups. And, of course, dogs have been dispensing TLC at retirement communities and nursing homes for years.
Now, dogs are helping to improve the lives of America’s veterans, notably those dealing with PTSD and TIB. A&E recently profiled the program, Paws & Stripes, a New Mexico-based organization that is headed by Lindsey and Jim Stanek and entails matching vets with shelter dogs.
The good news is that you don’t need a super dog to enjoy the health benefits they deliver. As Cesar Millan so often coaches, mastering the walk will deliver both mental and physical benefits (for both dogs and humans). Walking a dog for 30 minutes a day can help control weight, combat high blood pressure, improve mood, boost energy, enhance sleep and improve stamina.
Research is also providing evidence that dogs are having a positive effect on reducing the risk of heart disease. In a study of 5,200 adults, dog owners walked more and engaged in more physical activity than did those who didn’t have dogs. In fact, the dog owners were 54% more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity. A study conducted by the National Institute of Health demonstrated that the one-year survival rate for heart attacks was higher among dog owners – 97% vs. 72% (non-dog owners). Dogs also have an unproven ability to reduce blood pressure and stress levels – there’s just something so calming about stroking a dog.
Finally, dogs make us more sociable. Yes, we may know our neighbors as “Molly’s dad” or “Eddie’s mom,” but walks through the neighborhood promote conversations. And, we can’t forget the hottest place to meet people: the dog park!
Katie Errigo & Booker
Katie has loved animals all her life. “I always wanted a dog,” she reports. Her dream came true on the final day of middle school. Two weeks earlier, she had selected a Sheltie. “My dad picked me up at school, and we went and got Harry and took him home,” she says of the dog she came to adore. “We enrolled in obedience classes and took lessons in conformation handling,” she recalls. “Then, we discovered agility.”
Hawa Lassanah & Mulan
Hawa hails from the North Shore in Massachusetts. Franklin & Marshall College brought the psychology major to Lancaster. During Hawa’s sophomore year, tragedy struck. Her mother died. The Ghana native, who was once a stewardess for Pan-Am, had suffered a debilitating stroke. Complications led to her death. She was only 49 years old. “I had to go home and pack up the house,” Hawa explains.
Wendy Reitzel & Stormy
Fifteen years ago, Wendy was going through her near-daily exercise regimen of riding a stationary bike and lifting weights at her gym. Suddenly, she felt pain at the back of her neck. She explained it away and pushed through her workout. Afterward, she stopped at the grocery store. The pain reoccurred and worsened. Wendy thought she might be having a heart attack and went to the aisle where pain meds are located, opened a bottle of aspirin and took some. “I didn’t know what to think,” she recalls. “I wasn’t having the typical symptoms you associate with a heart attack.”
Samantha Mintz & Guinness
In 2010, samantha was training to become a federal air marshal. During her physical, her EKG registered an abnormality. A subsequent visit to a urologist prompted the doctor to say he detected a heart murmur. None of it made sense. Samantha exercised on an almost daily basis. Heart disease did not run in her family.