Happiness Tip: Hang Out with an Animal

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My parents recently adopted a dog, which has given me a new perspective on how animals bring happiness to humans. My parents were happy people before they met Cody (pictured below), but rarely have I seen a sentient being bring so much sheer joy into a family.

I’m not surprised that research shows that greater health and happiness can come from caring for a pet. One study tracked “hypertensive stockbrokers” who adopted a cat or dog; caring for their new animals lowered their blood pressure more than prescribed medicine! And you may have heard about the study that found that dog-owners tend to get more exercise than folks without a dog. Exercise is, of course, a sure way to boost health and happiness.

All that said, I never recommend getting a puppy to families with young children. We parents are usually so tapped-out that the last thing we need to worry about is another mammal. But our families can still benefit from a little animal love by taking on lower-stress pets (research points to the benefits of a fish tank for some people; I’m also a big advocate of pet rats) or by helping out with other people’s animals. My kids beg constantly for more animals, but our diabetic dog is enough for me to care for right now. So, to fulfill their pet cravings, they spend 2 hours after school caring for a friend’s chickens, duck, and quail.

Take Action: This week, find a cat to pet, a dog to walk, or a fish to feed. If you feel noticeably calmer after the experience, consider adopting!

Do your pets–or the idea of pets, if you don’t have them–bring more or less joy into your life? What about stress? Please comment below.

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  • http://CivilTongue.com/ Amy

    There is such thing as prison cat rehab. They let death row inmates earn the right to foster and adopt a cat destined for euthanasia (death row kitties). They end up rescuing each other. Since the cats are a privilege, it keeps the prisoners motivated for good behavior. The kitties behavior can improve too (since they were “unadoptable”). More importantly, these hardened criminals get an opportunity to love and nurture – a role they may have never had before. It changes them and calms them. Love and nurturance are so powerful, the inmates are surrogate parents for these kitties. Civiltongue.com has a piece on it.

    • http://www.christinecarter.com Dr. Christine Carter

      What a wonderful program! I’m happy to know about it.

  • Jenepen

    At the moment my eldest daughter’s two cats are living with me, as well as my daughter and her two children. I didn’t realise how much I missed having furry friends around. Our most wonderful Sylvester died earlier this year after a short illness and I just could not bring myself to replace him in the short term. Circumstances meant that Matilda and Datsun needed a home, so I welcomed them with open arms. I was afraid that they would take time to settle down, being older cats, how wrong was I. When my daughter brought them inside, Datsun ran upstairs and Matilda took over my study. They both love being here, and I love having them here. They have not replaced Sylvester who was the most loving cat I have every encountered and he will always be in my heart, but they have certainly filled a void. In fact Matilda is sitting on MY chair in the study as I write. If she is not on my chair she wants to be on my lap. Viva Matilda and Datsun.

    • http://www.christinecarter.com Dr. Christine Carter

      Chuckle…This comment made me smile.

  • Andreathompson

    I appreciate your comment about the danger of parents of kids taking on another mammal to care for.  Having our 2 dogs has been one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done, and one of the things I regret most in my life of over 55 years. After long consideration – interviewing people and getting info from several sources about what is required in caring for a dog, we adopted 2 dogs as my children were begging for them (and had already become attached to them at a children’s camp where they met the dogs). We were told that all the pups need is a 20 minute walk 2x/ day. How wrong this advice was. I live in a constant internal civil war over whether to keep the dogs, as the children want, or to get rid of them given how much I resent the poor dogs because I have no time/ energy/ money for dealing with them after caretaking children all day long. Getting these dogs, perfectly nice energetic creatures I’m sure, has been a source of great conflict and misery in our family due simply to the parallel overwhelming demands of caretaking children (1 very difficult) and caretaking the dogs as well.  Perhaps our experience will save someone else from taking on too much.

    • http://www.christinecarter.com Dr. Christine Carter

      Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your experience. I know that you are not alone!!

  • fairlady68

    As an autistic middle-aged single female, I can attest to the healing benefits of animal companionship.  My life was improved immensely when I allowed Julie, a beautiful stray calico cat, into my home and heart.  Yes, it was VERY hard when she came down with mammary cancer and died…but fortunately within a few weeks I had the strength to find a new feline friend.  Her name is Chloe and she is a sweet tortie (no tortitude!) who brings me nothing but love and joy.  The only source of stress for me with my cats has been dealing their illnesses and taking them to the vet…I dread having to give Chloe daily medication if it turns out the special diet she is on does not control her hyperthyroidism.  However, considering what my kitty girls have done for me, I want to learn to let them pull me out of my comfort zone and be there to care for them in crisis, just as they have supported me during my own tough times…

    • http://www.christinecarter.com Dr. Christine Carter

      Wonderful…

  • Katie

    From someone who has two dogs and two cats, I agree. One of my dogs was used as a therapy dog when I was in clinical practice counseling children. I was always amazed at how easily children opened up when the dog was around. Even the other staff members benefited from her presence.
    I would like to add that I believe it is helpful for a young child to be raised with a pet or pets. Puppies are a lot of work, but there are numerous older dogs that are good with kids and desperately need a home. We brought a 3-year-old lab/husky mix home when I found out I was pregnant, and a one-year-old Kai Ken shortly after our daughter was born. We already had cats. Our daughter (who turns 5 tomorrow) has been raised around dogs and cats and is now well-versed in appropriate ways to handle furry members of a family. In fact, in her end-of-year preschool assessment the teachers commented how her love of animals shines through in empathy and compassion. 

    • http://www.christinecarter.com Dr. Christine Carter

      I agree that it is great for kids to be raised with pets–when the parents have the bandwidth for the animal’s care. Kids learn A LOT of life lessons by caring for animals.

  • fjr

    I am entirely smitten with my two year old English Bulldog, who radiates affection, security, and peacefulness. There could be no better role model for stopping and smelling the roses … and the ferns, grasses, bark of trees, car tires, litter… I agree, though, that this is the time in my life for her rather than when the children were small. She requires and deserves attention, service on a routine, doctor’s visits… Perhaps with one child I could have handled adding her and maintaining a fulltime job, but certainly not with three. Actually, I think one should think hard about whether it is a good life for a dog to be left at home alone when parents are at work outside the home and children are at school. It is always worthwhile to consider not only how a pet contributes to the quality of our lives but also whether we are giving them the best lives they could have, given our other commitments outside the home.

    • http://www.christinecarter.com Dr. Christine Carter

      Yes, I think compassion and caring towards our pets is an important thing to model for children – it will help feel secure that they will also be well taken care of.

  • animal lover

    Truer words were never written.  My dog, who died recently, was the creature I faced life with.  He was always there, always enthusiastic about life, and always accepting.  Another pu will be coming into my life shortly bringing his own energy.
    I have seen cats bring great companionship to old relatives and gave them a reason for continuing  to live – the joy of a loving animal.
    I also think that the joy of animals comes with both the responsibility to love and care for them their whole lives AND the financial ability to provide for their needs.  I think most of your readers would fit that category.
    Animals are the best.

    • http://www.christinecarter.com Dr. Christine Carter

      I’m sorry to hear about your loss, but glad to hear a new pup is in your future. A lucky dog, for sure!

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