The Beneficial Effects of Companion Animals

December 24, 2008

I don’t know how many parents approach you about buying a pet for their child as a present, but there is at least one family that bought a yellow lab puppy this week.

Happy holidays to everyone, whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas. To celebrate, here’s a clip of what dogs do if you forget to decorate. If only, right?

I don’t know how many parents approach you about buying a pet for their child as a present, but there is at least one family that bought a yellow lab puppy this week (thanks to a Christmas release of the movie, Marley and Me). I don’t advocate this type of purchase because while it delights a child, it is often bad for the dog — owning a pet is a lot of responsibility, and animals are not disposable if the arrangement doesn’t work out for whatever reason. Unfortunately, too many animals are treated this way.

Still, I have to admit that I insist on a pet for my child specifically to teach her responsibility — it’s up to her to make the arrangement work out. We’ve put up with chewed furniture, spoiled carpet, and a variety of other mishaps. However, over the holiday break from school, I’ve watched my child play with her dog while I work; Belle, a Pomeranian, sits dutifully in the chair with my daughter when she plays on the Disney website, runs with her when she’s playing outside, and suffers being dressed up and rolled around in a baby stroller. All without complaint. I’m not sure what my daughter’s childhood would be like without that companionship.

Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to read about research out of Ohio State University that found a beneficial effect of pets for college students. I can remember moving away from a 650 acre farm to attend school and live in a dormitory with five other girls. The homesickness was sometimes overwhelming, and I actually tried keeping a puppy in the community bathroom for a while to get some feeling for home (it was approximately one week before I was turned in and the puppy kicked out). When I moved off campus and was able to bring my dog to school, I felt better — my grades went up, I felt happier, and the telephone calls to home went down.

These are all things to think about with respect to not only raising children, but also for taking care of the needs of our aging parents. At least, in my humble opinion. If you do have parents make inquiries about adopting a pet, please do make sure that you mention the local animal shelters. They are currently overburdened with pets that have been abandoned for economic reasons.

That said, be safe, stay warm, and enjoy bringing in the New Year!