|Dear Tami ,
Morrie Schwartz wrote “Death ends a life, not a relationship. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.” That is certainly true for Dylan and me, as I am sure it is for all of you who have ever shared that Human – Animal bond with a special animal companion. As the sixth anniversary of Dylan’s death nears this week, I never cease to marvel at the impact Dylan continues to have on my life. Dylan’s Hearts, formed in his honor so others could come to know him and learn something of our journey together, is certainly a legacy I hope would make him proud! One of the goals of Dylan’s Hearts that we don’t emphasize enough, but can be found in our Articles of Incorporation, is by “providing financial assistance to families in times of need, we hope to help perpetuate the human-animal bond.” The goal is to provide the means to allow animal companions to remain in their home rather than be euthanized or surrendered in order to acquire the medical attention needed. The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that positively influences the health and well being of both. Many of us have known this for years from our personal experiences but now an emerging body of research is recognizing the impact the human-animal bond can have on individual and community health. Some examples of these benefits and the studies supporting them are listed below. Whether it is living with an animal companion that gives us cause to exercise, offers an antidote for loneliness and gives us loving companions to care for, or animal-assisted interventions that improve motivation to participate in treatment and lessen worry, anxiety and pain, these studies recognize that animals can influence not just our happiness but also our health. Certainly for some of us, this very remarkable connection with our animal companions proves to be life changing.
(Thanks to Pet Partners for providing these studies)
A therapy dog has a positive effect on patients’ pain level and satisfaction with their hospital stay following total joint arthroplasty (Harper, 2014)
Fibromyalgia patients spending time with a therapy dog instead of an outpatient waiting area at a pain management facility showed significant improvements in pain, mood and other measures of distress (Marcus, 2013)
A walking program that matched sedentary adults with therapy animals resulted in an increase in walking over a 52 week graduated intervention with the participants stating their motivation for adherence was “the dogs need us to walk them” (Johnson, 2010)
Children made fewer errors in match-to-sample categorization task in the presence of a dog relative to a stuffed animal or human (Gee, 2010). Similar studies may indicate the presence of a dog serves as both a source of motivation and a highly salient stimulus for children, allowing them to better restrict their attention to the demands of the task (Gee, 2012)
Animal companions, perhaps by providing social support, lowers blood pressure response to mental stress (Allen, 2001)
Patients with animal companions have higher one-year survival rates following a heart attack (Friedmann, 1980,1995)
Animal companions, particularly dogs, may be reasonable for reduction in cardiovascular disease risk (Levine, 2013)
Animal companions are associated with a reduced risk for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and diffuse large cell lymphoma (Trahan, 2008)
Therapy animals in pediatric cancer studies improved motivation to participate in treatment protocol, to maintain their motivation over time, and to want to “get better” or stay optimistic (Sobo, 2006, Barker, 2008)
In addition to all of these positive benefits of the human-animal bond, there are many more that are immeasurable. Some emotions cannot be put into words. Some life lessons are personal and do not apply to everyone. Whatever it is that makes our relationship with our animal companion so exceptional is our own. It is a real and dynamic bond that can last a lifetime and beyond. For that, we should all be so very grateful!
Donna Grahl, President and Founder