The Health Benefits of Getting a Dog (an Ode to Our Dog, Cookie)

Cookie

Many people are getting pets during this pandemic. That’s what I want to talk about the health benefits of getting a dog today. 

A 2019 article published in Circulation, the peer reviewed journal of the American Heart Association, analyzed 10 studies that included data from over 3 million people. And it found that dog owners had a 24 percent risk reduction for death from any cause. That’s a pretty big deal. And that’s just one reason to get a dog. I’m going to give you a few more. But first, I have to tell you about our dog, Cookie.

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The One Cookie That’s GREAT for Your Health

Cookie is a rescue dog, who looks like two very different dogs fused into one. I think maybe she’s a basset hound and a husky? Regardless of her pedigree, she’s cute. She’s loving. She’s changed our lives. And, she’s made us healthier. 

My daughter started asking for a dog when she was 3. As we were in the weeds with taking care of her and her little brother, who was 1 at the time. We stalled. I always told her when she was 8 and her brother was 6 we would get a dog. It sounded like a really long way away when she was 3. Ha. Then the day came that she turned 8 and I had to do some serious reckoning to get on board. 

Of course I wanted to make her happy. I wanted our kids to grow up with a dog. And I consider myself to be a dog person, but not to the nth degree. I think they’re cute and funny and I love to pet them. But I also knew that they require care and attention. And I honestly wasn’t sure I was ready to take care of and give attention to another creature that was wholly dependent on us. What I wasn’t considering–at first–were the health benefits of getting a dog.

Pro #1: Becoming More Active

So I made a list of pros and cons. And really, what got me to fully commit to getting a dog is that I knew I needed to walk more. As a writer, I sit a LOT. It’s the one thing I don’t like about my line of work. But it does mean I work from home–even pre-pandemic. So I didn’t have to feel guilty about getting a dog that we would then leave alone for hours a day. But I need someone depending on me to do things. And that includes standing up from my desk and going to take a walk. 

Pro #2: Unconditional Love

And it is 100% true that Cookie has gotten us all walking more, and that it has been great for all of our health. But now that we’ve had a dog for four years, you know why I think dogs are REALLY good for your health? It’s because they love you. They get excited to see you even when you’ve only been gone for five minutes because you went to the bathroom. They gaze at you adoringly. And they cuddle up next to you and lick your leg. You may not think this is as one of the health benefits of getting a dog, but it absolutely is. First of all, it reduces your stress. It helps you get out of your head. And it bathes you in oxytocin which is a relaxation hormone–other ways it gets released is through orgasms and breastfeeding, and while I’m all for both those things they don’t happen multiple days for 12 years, which is the average lifespan of a dog, you know what I’m sayin’?

Pro #3: Emotional Solace

Also, and this I didn’t even think to put on my list of pros, is that dogs provide emotional solace. When you’ve had a day, you can get that dog to snuggle up with you it just makes everything better. I’ve seen the kids be upset about something and then they go pet Cookie and she licks their face and it helps. 

Pro #3: Companionship

Also, the companionship is just priceless. You can talk to a dog and say things you wouldn’t say to another person, whether that’s baby talk, mindless chatter, or your deep dark secrets. Is this one of the health benefits of getting a dog, you may be asking? Why yes, yes it is. It is a key component of health to feel heard and understood. I know the dog can’t say, “Gee that sounds hard. I still love you.” But they say it all with their eyes and their body language.

Things You Should Consider Before Taking On The Responsibility Of A Dog

Now, all that being said I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the downsides. I don’t want to  bright side you and contribute to your getting a pet and then having you think, “Kate didn’t tell me about the shedding!” So here you go: Dogs can be a lot of work. You need to train them. Many of them chew stuff. You need to take them to the vet in the middle of the night when they’re pooping out the curtain they ate and you think they’re dying.

They will get sprayed by a skunk just before bedtime. You need to figure out who can watch them when you need to travel and they can’t come with. Vet appointments can be expensive (we got pet insurance that costs $45/month that we’ve basically never used because it only kicks in after $200 and our vet bills are always, I’m not kidding, $189). 

You do need to be around to care for it. They also make your house more allergen-y, and that may not jibe with your immune system or your family member’s immune system. You may be covered in dog hair, but as my daughter painted on a sign once, if you’re not covered in dog hair life is meaningless. 

Adopt Don’t Shop

So if you’re thinking about getting a pet, I am here to encourage you to do it. I appreciated adopting a young dog that was old enough to have been house trained by someone else and who had been fostered in someone’s home so they knew what she was like. There are many many animal rescue leagues that place fostered dogs in forever homes, and most of them seem to list the dogs they have available on petfinder.com, which is where we found Cookie. 

And, lastly, it doesn’t have to be a dog. It could be a rabbit, or a cat, or a bird, or a lizard. I’m not going to try to make a cat person into a dog person. But as a 100% verified dog person, I’ve got to advocate for the type of pet I love most. Getting a pet will enrich your life, boost your feel-good hormones, make you healthier, and just help to restore your faith that we do actually live in a wonderful world. 

 

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