The world of social media offers an entertaining peek into the evolving relationships between people and animals. TikTok channels where owners show their hilarious kitties reinventing the definition of cute, or a popular Twitter feed like We Rate Dogs (which also fundraises on behalf of pups in need of assistance) are examples of how we openly share the love and experiences we have among our species.
The relationships we develop with pets are unsurprisingly beneficial to our well-being. According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), the organization’s vision is to ensure that “HAB is universally embraced as an essential element of human wellness.”
It’s easy to fall for our animal friends – and not just because they’re so adorable. Dr. Dawn Spangler, a Senior Professional Services Veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., suggests that it is common for humans to see our pets as children.
“There is a distinct connection between us and our animals,” says Dr. Spangler, who currently has two dogs and four cats in her Ohio home. “We love them, and we want to nurture them.
“It goes back to the basics. We feed them, we shelter them, we are kind to them, and they understand that.”
It’s a real connection. Studies have shown that when humans and animals are in physical contact or interacting socially, both the owner and the pet show increased levels of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that makes us feel more love and connection. HABRI intends to shed light on the important role of the human-animal bond in the health and well-being of people and pets, as well as the communities they reside in. The US-based organization is doing this through science, education, and advocacy.
There have already been several amazing findings about how our relationships with pets can improve lives. Pets can positively impact the following:
- cardio health by promoting healthier blood flow
- depression by giving owners more sense of purpose and confidence
- child allergies by helping human cells fight off allergens
- a person’s blood pressure
- reduce the risk of obesity
- PTSD by reducing depression and anxiety, and creating more feelings of love and caring
Those are just a few examples of HAB at work. But pets can have an even more amazing effect on our lives. A beloved animal can encourage more talking, physical contact, eye contact, smiling, and laughing in autistic children. That’s just incredible!
In the workplace, the presence of pets can improve productivity, and collaboration, while also alleviating stress. What boss would say no to that?
“The positive impact on our health and wellness is such a prominent piece of this whole thing,” says Dr. Spangler. “It’s interesting but I don’t think the average person really thinks about that too much.
“The bond that develops also differs depending on the individual. What role does that animal play in their lives? You might have a person who goes out and hikes and takes their dog with them all of the time, a disabled person who has a service animal, or maybe a person who stays at home and their cat is a companion.
“How that bond develops varies based on the person.”
HAB is also an important focus for local Canadian organizations trying to do good work in their communities. The Toronto Humane Society is devoted to facilitating these relationships because of the obvious benefits they provide, which is illustrated in the different services it provides.
The organization’s site sums it up perfectly: “For people, connecting with and caring for an animal creates healthier and happier homes. Animals provide unconditional companionship, which leads to educational opportunities and better mental well-being in children as they develop nurturing skills and in adults who, for example, are typically more active when caring for a pet. Pets provide opportunities for more social interaction and the emotional connection can be an important counter to the stresses of life.
“For animals, a life where they are cared for ensures they are free from distress and discomfort. Living in a caring relationship with a human means a life where pain, injury, and disease are addressed and healed, and they are continually well-nourished.”
As if you needed any more incentive to welcome a beautiful soul to the household.
This is the first of an ongoing series in which we will look at the human-animal bond. For more information on HAB, visit https://habri.org/