I became acutely aware of the value of pets while at work one beautiful summer’s day. I was enjoying lunch on the clinic patio when I noticed a teen patient of mine walking toward me.
Shaking my extended hand, she began, “I want you to meet someone.” She gestured to the dog on the end of a short leash. “His name is Ollie,” she continued as she sat down under the market umbrella and lifted the rather large dog to her lap. He licked her on the lips.
“I suppose you think that’s unsanitary,” she said without embarrassment. Then added, “It’s better than kissing a dumb boy!” Her mood shifted abruptly and tears welled up in her eyes.
“Sounds like you broke up with your boyfriend,” I suggested.
“He broke up with me!” Tears began flowing.
Ollie gazed at her as she talked, then began licking away her tears. When he thought she had cried long enough, he nibbled on her ear lobe. With that, she giggled and pulled herself together, looked at me, and said: “I just can’t stay sad or mad when Ollie’s around. He always understands. People should be more like dogs.
“I know my mom loves me, but she just doesn’t understand the way Ollie does; neither do my friends. Having Ollie is like always having a best friend. I tell him everything, and he listens and understands. He never interrupts, never gets mad at me, never tells me what to do, and is always there when I need him.”
Emily knew what she was talking about. Dogs show compassion, loyalty, and unconditional love, and they give us another opportunity to enjoy God’s creation.
Studies have shown what pet owners have always known: having a pet helps us stay healthy. Doctors have discovered that pet owners live longer, recover faster after an illness or injury, and are generally happier than adults who do not have a pet.
Kids who have a close relationship with a pet have an easier time coping with the stresses of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics in a statement about ways to love your kids said, “Owning a pet can make children, even those with chronic illnesses and disabilities, feel better by stimulating physical activity, enhancing their overall attitude, and offering constant companionship.”
Recent studies show that infants who are exposed to dogs and cats have fewer allergies as children and adults, which is at odds with the medical advice families with a history of allergies usually get. Doctors now know that the presence of a dog or cat in the home decreases the risk of allergies and asthma.
Psychologists and psychiatrists have discovered that pets can help their patients get better faster. People seeing therapists are more comfortable talking about sensitive issues while holding, petting, or just being near a pet. The grandmother of our family dog, Belle, worked with a psychotherapist in Wisconsin.
Pets, especially big dogs and horses, encourage their owners to exercise. Exercise has many health benefits; it reduces the incidence of obesity, decreases the risk of heart attack, and helps control blood pressure. And the dogs provide protection as well as companionship.
Some dogs help kids learn to read. My grandson’s school had a dog named Dusty, who loved to sit and listen to the kids read. Dusty was never critical of the reader and always interested in anyone who offered attention. The kids loved to read to Dusty, and by reading more, they improved their reading skills and their self-esteem.
Pet owners have told me that caring for a pet taught their kids some important lessons. They learn to focus on things other than themselves. Feeding or brushing a dog is not like taking out the trash; both need to be done, but dogs show appreciation for what is done for them, while the trash doesn’t care. Kids know when they are needed and feel appreciated, which helps develop self-esteem. These lessons teach structure, responsibility, and discipline.
Make sure your children help with the pet’s care. Too often parents assume that responsibility, but if parents do all the work, how will the children benefit?
At the age of 16, our dog Belle became ill and crossed the rainbow bridge. It was a very traumatic event for us. I made Belle a beautiful coffin, we wrapped in a blanket her veterinarian, Dr. Bowling, kindly provided, and we buried Belle in our backyard. We pondered getting another dog. Some months later one of our grown sons asked when were we going to replace Belle. I answered we weren’t sure we would.
“Well,” he said, “you should!”
“Why?” Mary asked.
“Because since Belle died, Dad’s getting crabby.”
Later that year we brought Frosty home. Frosty has many of the same pedigree ancestors as Belle, and is just as sweet. What a difference Frosy has made in our lives.
If you have the space, the time, and can afford it, get your family a dog, or some other pet; let your kids help with its care, and see what a difference it makes in your family.
Enjoy the kids in your life, and may God continue to bless you and your family.