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Biology 103
2001 First Web Report
On Serendip

Companion Pets

Sarah Sterling

A few years ago a neighbor of mine, Jackie, had a stroke and became partly paralyzed. She had very little mobility of the left side of her body and therefore was stuck in a wheelchair, home alone, when her husband was gone to work. The therapy and medicine didnít seem to be helping and my neighbor slipped more deeply into depression. About a year later, the couple found a golden retriever and decided to give it a home. The next time I saw her, Jackie was walking around with a cane! She still had only little movement of her arm, but it appeared that in some miraculous way the ownership of this animal was helping her to become stronger both mentally and physically. It was as if she was not quite so alone in the world. The dog was ìsomeoneî she could talk to about her fears and also comforted her when things seemed to be too much to bear.

Many children are taught about responsibility through the ownership of fish, hamsters, frogs, mice, snakes, a dog, cat or some other type of animal. What is the reason so many humans have these animals though? If it were strictly for the responsibility lesson there would be far fewer pets in this world. There must be something significant about coming home from a hard days work and seeing two little puppy dog eyes greeting us at the door. Why is it that pets seem to always find us when weíre sad and ìcomfortî us? Do they really know what weíre feeling?

Through fossils, artifacts and other records, it has been documented that dogs appear to have been the first domesticated animal. (2). (2) Cave drawings show that dogs may have lived with humans more than fourteen thousand year ago. It is possible that dogs were the first domesticated animals due to their high social behavior. This type of behavior allows them to accept humans as part of their family. This long-term, close relationship between canines and humans has come to offer companionship to many members of both species. Dogs, as well as other animals, have the natural instinct and ability to relate to humans and therefore ease pain and comfort the sick, elderly and physically handicapped, as well as the intelligence to aid the visually and physically disabled. (2) . (2)

A very recent case of the incredible ways in which animals can help children with disabilities appeared on Dateline in August of 2001. (4) . (4) The parents of a young boy with high-functioning autism decided to begin introducing small animals into his life and their home. High-functioning autistics generally have low social and language skills, obsessions with movements (such as rocking and finger flicking), and difficulties communicating their thoughts and feelings. The slow introduction of animals, such as hamsters, into the life of this child seemed to help dramatically. Soon, the stereotypical autistic obsessions were lessening. The young boyís social and language skills took a turn for the better and it appeared that through these animals he could more clearly communicate how he was feeling. (4).

In other cases, such as those involving the elderly or dying, animals can offer protections, entertainment and distraction from pain. The actions involved in petting a dog or cat will reduce a personís blood pressure, and also helps physically as it takes stretching and turning to use the hands and arms in order to touch a pet. Some people can relate to animals better than people and will talk to them about fears without feeling uncomfortable. (5). (5) I believe that this was the case with Jackie, as no one has to worry about what an animal might say to worries or complaints.

As far as cats are concerned, they (as well as other animals) can ìreadî our moods. The moods of many pets will change in consideration to the moods that they sense. If a person is stressed, happy, sad, or playful, the mood of their pets will take a noticeable change. It appears that there is less stress, fewer heart attacks, and longer lives for pet owners. (3) . (3) While there are many good things that animals can do for people, there are also good deeds done in return. Some fun facts include the fact that ì25% of cat owners blow dry their cats hair after a bathî! (3). (3)

Sadly enough, not all human-animal relationships are pleasant ones. Dr. Jo Swabe, a specialist in anthrozoology has been studying the killing of healthy animals for years. Heís worried about the slaughtering of later unused livestock, as well as the euthanasia of unwanted or potentially harmful pets. Many healthy animals are killed each year because of the pure ignorance of some people who say that they seem to be ìeconomically uninteresting and unproductive animalsî. (1). (1)

As Iíve learned more about the relationship between humans and animals itís become clear that the topic of pets can be a controversial one. Some people worry whether or not the use of animals for medical purposes will have a downfall effect once animals start becoming aggressive towards humans. Others question if these animals could be harmful at all. (5). (5) The final controversy is whether we even deserve to own animals as pets. Will the abuse of several animals determine the future of pets all together?

This past summer I worked at a camp for children and adults with severe mental and physical disabilities. At this camp, specializing in outdoor education, we used animals in many different ways to help our campers relate to life. Some campers who had never been out of their wheelchairs, other than to sleep, were able to feel the movement of a horse beneath them as they rode for the first time. I got to see first hand the reaction of many non- responsive campers to the touch of life due to the animals that we kept as pets at camp. I understand that there is still a lot of work to be done as far as the care and consideration of animals is concerned, but I also feel that the benefits that animals bring to all people is too important to let it be forgotten or ignored.

WWW Sources

1)Humans and Other Animals

2)The Puppy Dog Page


4)Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorders


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