DogTalk: Pawsitive vibes for human health

Fifi is a happy indulged pet who cheers up her mum who works from home. Photo: Chantelle Tay Turner

A lot of our friends are convinced that dogs are dirty and should be avoided. It’s understandable if you look at the state those poor street strays are in, but while our canine friends can be a bit mucky at times, science suggests that (unless you are allergic) having a dog friend has a direct positive impact on your physical health – especially if you are in crisis.

Researchers began to examine the potential health benefits of owning a dog some 40 years ago.

While many different studies were conducted, one that caught the public’s attention was a 1980 research project led by Dr Erika Friedmann, University of Maryland School of Nursing, the United States, that showed dog owners were 8.6 times more likely to be alive one year after a heart attack than non-dog owners.

As that study involved just 96 people, Friedmann ran a bigger trial in 1995 with 369 patients, and again confirmed the result.

In a similar study in 2000, Dr Karen Allen, University at Buffalo, the United States, and her team recruited 48 hypertensive New York City stockbrokers and asked half to adopt a pet while the other half were given lisinopril, an anti-hypertension medicine.

While the group on medicine were OK if life was smooth, researchers discovered that those with a pet cat or dog had a significantly lower blood pressure even in stressful times.

These revelations spawned a slew of studies that examined what lies behind these results. Some posited the benefits came from increased daily exercise, a basic requirement for healthy dogs while others wondered if canine companionship was key.

For animal lovers, none of this is news.

“My Fifi makes me feel wonderful,” says Chantelle Tay Turner, a customer service advisor originally from Petaling Jaya, Selangor, but now living in Manchester, England.

Fifi’s charms are immediately apparent. She is a sweet little Cockapoo, a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle, with curly brown hair and huge eyes.

“Fifi was rescued from a breeder when she was four years old,” Tay Turner shares. “She hadn’t been badly treated exactly, but she wasn’t cared for properly either. She was housed with 40 other dogs, so when she came to us, she was tired out and afraid. Thankfully, she’s happy now – and looking younger!”

Fifi looks like a pup again, and according to her mum, the happy little dog is spreading that feel-good factor around.

“She makes me feel so good,” Tay Turner enthuses. “I’m a remote worker so I am alone with four walls all day. It’s stressful but when I look up, I see that sweet little face. That makes me feel wonderful!

“And Fifi makes it clear that she loves me. She naps next to me when I’m working or sitting down and follows me around if I stand up. She just loves being near me.

“We walk Fifi every day. There are fields near us, and she loves going there. Usually there are no other dogs, so she goes off-leash. She runs around in huge circles, panting and wagging her tail, until she’s exhausted. She absolutely loves it!

“We take her everywhere, and we make sure that we opt for dog-friendly places. Fifi is very well-behaved. She sits and minds her own business. In fact, sometimes people think she’s a toy because she’s so good.”

What happens when her mum is unwell or unhappy? “Fifi has an excellent sense of mood. If I’m sad, she sits next to me, staring up at me with huge puppy eyes. She’s so cute that I feel better instantly.”

Fifi is also compassionate and patient. “My father-in-law has dementia. Fifi sits by him and comforts him.”

But there is also a practical reason for Fifi bucking up the family. “When you’re not well, it’s easy to sink into misery,” Tay Turner points out. “Dogs help you shift the focus away from your misery or health.

“Just knowing she needs care, her breakfast or dinner, and going out for a walk, keeps me moving. It establishes a pattern of care that’s not just for her – it’s also for me.

“Also, the second I’m on my feet, she asks to play. It’s great because it’s never lonely. Being with Fifi means there is always a friend with me.”

However, that level of care comes with a caution. “Dogs are not for everyone. They need to be out every single day, twice a day, whether it’s hot or cold or dry or raining. And you can’t be busy or not interested.

“Also, aside from that, you need to shower them, comb them, and cook for them – it’s a lot of care.”

While pet lovers have been enjoying themselves, researchers have been building a more complex picture of how dogs may influence our health.

Dr Caroline Kramer of University of Toronto, Canada, a self-declared proud owner of her own furry, Romeo, led a team in 2019 that conducted a meta-analysis of studies. Evaluating over 3.8 million patients, their finding confirmed that dog ownership leads to a 24% risk reduction of mortality for all health conditions.

And in Britain, Dr Ana Maria Barcelos, University of Lincoln, England, led a research project in 2020 that nailed the reasons why. In-depth discussion with focus groups of 35 owners revealed that if you want positive well-being outcomes such as relaxation, happiness, positive relationships, and purpose in life, you need to be an active dog lover.

That means training your pet, walking your pet every single day, cuddling every day, and hanging out with your dog every day.

Bottom line: Having a dog tied up on your porch or garden and going for a walk once a week isn’t going to do a thing for you or the animal. It’s the investment that counts.

If you treat your dog like your best friend, a pet who has needs that you are willing to fulfill with joy every single day, you build solid companionship and love that is solid gold.

Adopt Me

Photo: KL Pooch Resort and Rescue/Shannon LamPhoto: KL Pooch Resort and Rescue/Shannon Lam

DoDo is two-and-a-half years old, healthy, vaccinated and sterilised. This young lady is medium-sized, sweet, friendly and playful. She’s looking for a forever home where she can bond with her human. Interested adopters please WhatsApp Carol, the KL Pooch Resort and Rescue Foundation Officer in Kalumpang, Selangor, at 012-396 0977.

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