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You’ll Never Walk Alone if You Have a Dog

dog sitting on bedThere’s something special about the relationship between dogs and humans. Homo sapiens and canines seem connected by some strange and powerful unseen force. One can sense that they need us like we need them. It’s like we were designed by nature to be together.
Dogs and Humans - Designed by Nature to be Best Friends
In fact, scientists have discovered that an ancient intertwined bond between humankind and canines goes back to when dogs first split from the wolf pack over 40,000 years ago; ever since then we have co-evolved.
Wolves who were tame enough to approach humans and beg for scraps were the first step in this evolutionary process. Domesticated dogs allowed us to hunt more efficiently and protected us from predators and intruders. The dogs benefitted because we shared our food and provided shelter for them.
The ancient humans who naturally trusted and bonded with dogs were the people who were more likely to survive in the harsh and wild environment. The dogs that were the best companions were the ones we kept and bred. So, down through the eons, we have been hard-wired by natural selection to be dog-lovers. In turn, they have evolved to be our best friends, both by emotionally supporting us and by physically protecting us.
Two years ago, our younger son, Evan, found a sickly little 7-week-old puppy in rural Georgia. She was scrawny, flea-bitten, worm-infested and homeless. Evan named her Lady and nursed her back to health. A few months later, he went off to medical school and left us with a “grand-dog” to raise. Now Lady is like my shadow and she follows me everywhere. Evan trained her to love road trips, so when I have to drive somewhere, she often hops into the passenger seat. While I’m driving, from time to time Lady leans over and licks my right ear as if to say, “I just love hanging out with you.”
I take her and our other big dog Brady walking at least once a day. I have learned from Joan that to fully reap the benefits of having an animal family, you have to invest a little time and energy into building a relationship with them. Joan is constantly chatting with, or getting kisses from our four-legged kids.
These days, I too find myself frequently talking to and sharing hugs with the animals. Your mother is generally your best bet if you’re looking for unconditional love; but second best would be your dog. Spouses are great too, but for example, if I locked Lady and Joan in the trunk of my car, and then opened the trunk an hour later, only one of them would still be happy to see me.
Health Blessings Bestowed by Pets
Numerous studies show that owning a dog and/or cat confers many health benefits. Our furry friends reduce anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, and improve fitness.
They can also improve our cholesterol and blood glucose levels, and help us lose unwanted pounds. Researchers report that petting a dog or cat changes your hormone levels - raising oxytocin (the love hormone) and lowering cortisol (the stress hormone). Bringing pets into airports, nursing homes or schools has been consistently shown to lower stress and reduce tension among the people with whom they interact.
Like the postman, neither snow nor rain nor sleet nor gloom of night discourages your dog from wanting out for a walk. I know Lady and Brady are forever whining at me to take them outside for a walk in the fresh air regardless of the weather.
And when I’m out with the dogs, we tend to interact with other people, especially other dog walkers. This is just one more reason why dog owners generally feel less lonely. Studies also consistently report that children who are raised with a dog and/or cat are much less likely to have allergies and asthma.
In Good Health,
James O'Keefe, MD