Welcome to episode 402 of The Whole View! This week Stacy and Sarah discuss the health benefits of pet ownership. In addition to the science behind the mental and physical benefits, Stacy and Sarah share details from their pet adoption experiences. Enjoy!
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The Whole View, Episode 402: The Benefits of Pets (and Sarah’s getting a puppy!)
Welcome back to the Whole View, episode 402 – not 42. (0:27)
Sarah is full of punny jokes.
Stacy and Sarah are excited to finally share Sarah’s big news!
This episode is being pre-recorded because on the normal recording day, Sarah is bringing home a brand new puppy.
Sarah grew up with all kinds of pets, and as an adult, she has had cats.
However, she has wanted a dog forever, but she has been waiting for the right time.
Sarah’s husband grew up with no pets and doesn’t have much comfort with dogs.
The girls have also been skittish around dogs to date, and she knew that a puppy would be a good starting place for them.
Sarah has been waiting for a long enough break from travel to be able to commit to a puppy.
When Sarah’s health crashed last fall her daughter told her it was the perfect time to get a dog, and Sarah couldn’t have agreed more.
This has been in the works since then.
Sarah’s Experience with Finding a Dog
Sarah has been researching dog breed characteristics and they decided to get a Portuguese water dog.
She did her research to not just find the right breed for her, but for her family as well.
With various levels of anxiety in Sarah’s family, she knew that supporting mental health was a key piece in this all.
She wanted a dog that was social, cuddly, and interactive.
Having a dog that gets Sarah out of the house was also key, as she wanted a breed that needs a lot of activity.
The other piece that Sarah was looking for was a smart, highly trainable dog.
Portuguese water dog checked all of these boxes.
They need physical exercise as well as mental exercise every day.
Getting a hypoallergenic breed was also a must.
Once they found the breed they wanted, they did a ton of research to find the right breeder.
Sarah shared more on how she selected the breeder.
They will have a new family member!
Stacy’s Experience with Finding a Dog
Stacy noted that we are all individuals in our health and lifestyle needs. (12:30)
We are also individuals in our pet needs.
From personal experience, Stacy’s family has rescued probably about twenty animals over the course of her life.
Stacy shared more on her experience with bringing a rescue dog into their family.
They were not considering bringing a dog into the house again until the boys prepared a presentation about the different types of dogs and their traits.
The kids selected three breeds and provided explanations on why they thought these were good options for their family.
It was Matt and Stacy doing more research that allowed them to determine that an emotional support therapy animal was actually a really good idea for their family.
In doing research and finding a breeder who specializes in emotional support therapy animals, they were able to find the right dog for their family.
Selective smart breeding, like Sarah, was a key detail that Matt and Stacy looked for.
The Impact of a Pet Joining the Family
Stacy has never had a dog that she has bonded with that has made such a difference in her life the way that Penny has.
There is a difference in a special needs home, and an animal (regardless of what kind) can have a lot of benefits to the mental health of each family member.
Stacy wants to put it out there that this is not an advertisement for purchasing a puppy mill puppy.
She is not here to tell anybody what they should or should not do, or that the choices they made are either right or wrong.
There is no guilt or shame associated with the route you take.
Just like with health and lifestyle, looking back and having negative emotions is never productive.
What we can do is say, now I’m educated and I’m going to make the best choices that I can with the knowledge that I have.
It is important that you understand what kind of pet you are getting, especially if you have a high needs home.
Be mindful of what you are getting into, which encompasses so many different perspectives.
There are different animals that have different temperaments based on both genetics and how they have been raised.
It can be a wonderful experience.
Stacy couldn’t have imagined that getting a dog would have gone so well for her family.
When Penny came into the family, Stacy saw an immediate change in one of their children who has depression and anxiety.
Penny also fulfills an important emotional need for Matt.
We all have emotional needs that need to be met, and a pet might be that for you!
What Do You Need to Know
There were a couple of articles that Sarah read from the American Kennel Club (the AKC) that were very helpful for Sarah to understand the myths around purebred dogs. (20:35)
These articles helped Sarah feel comfortable going in this direction.
The information helped her understand what to look for in a rescue organization, as well as what to look for in a breeder.
Every other animal Sarah has owned has also been a rescue and this was the first time that she is not.
This really was a very carefully thought out decision made with her family with all of their diverse needs in mind.
Sarah does not want to make a statement about which way is better.
If you are looking for a dog now, it is important to be aware of how inhumane the puppy mill industry is and how problematic it is.
It is important to avoid that awful in-between.
If you did get a dog from a pet store, don’t feel guilty about this – just be aware of the information for next time.
There are two very ethical ways to go about this.
And it is about finding the right fit for you as an individual.
Right now with covid-19 and shutdowns, there are a lot of animals looking for foster homes.
So even if you think you can’t continue pet ownership once life returns to normal, there are some organizations that are looking for temporary homes for their pets.
It is better to give you the knowledge to help you find a local group near you, then it is to start calling out groups all over the country.
There are plenty of options when it comes to ethical rescue.
Science on Pets
What is really interesting about the science on the benefits of pet ownership, is that in many ways it doesn’t matter what kind of pet you have. (25:45)
What matters is the bond with the animal, not the type of animal it is.
The bond in the relationship with the animal is key.
There have been a huge amount of studies looking at pet ownership.
In the last couple of years, researchers have been teasing out the mechanisms behind what is responsible for these benefits.
It seems to be benefiting our health from a number of points.
There is the connection point, and we know that owning a companion pet reduces stress and depression.
Sarah explained what is happening internally on a hormonal level with these outcomes.
A lot of research has been done (on people of all ages) shows that a pet can actually provide connection and reduce the sense of isolation.
Feeling isolated is a health risk factor.
Companion animals can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and they have been shown to increase cardiovascular disease outcomes.
There is a huge range of different benefits.
Digging Deeper Into the Science
Understanding the science behind this has been a big focus of research. (30:15)
Dog owners are more likely to have healthy habits.
This is partially because a dog, in general, need to be walked every day.
You can find more information on this research here.
If you own a dog you are far more likely to be physically active, and you are far more likely to have a healthy diet.
There is a strong interaction between lifestyle and cravings and appetite regulation.
A variety of studies have shown that having any kind of companion animal has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and reduce feelings of social isolation.
We are seeing this mediated through hormones.
In particular, this study showed measurably higher oxytocin with lower cortisol and alpha-amylase levels.
Stacy and Sarah discussed oxytocin and the many ways it impacts our physical and mental health.
The Impact on Stress
There have been some really interesting studies looking at the benefits of pet ownership through the lens of the stress response. (35:00)
This study that was done in 2002 was one that Sarah particularly enjoyed reading.
Being in the presence of a dog causes a more powerful reduction in cardiovascular stress than being in the presence of a friend or spouse.
Relative to people without pets, people with pets had significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure levels during a resting baseline, significantly smaller increases (ie, reactivity) from baseline levels during the mental arithmetic and cold pressor, and faster recovery.
There have been a bunch of other studies that have looked at this in different ways.
One of which looked at dopamine, endorphins, and cortisol in people who spent just thirty-minutes with a dog.
Spending 30 minutes interacting with a dog has been shown to boost dopamine and endorphin levels, while also decreasing levels of cortisol.
The same found a similar effect in health-care workers after only 5 minutes of petting a dog.
Stacy and Sarah discussed how to ease discomfort with dogs if that is a challenge that you run into with members of your family.
Another interesting study that Sarah wanted to share is this one.
Stacy wanted to share that it is not impossible to overcome.
Through bonding, Matt was able to find comfort with being a pet owner and now really loves having a pet in the house.
Remember, the mental health benefits are associated with owning any pet, not just dog ownership.
The memories that you hold towards certain pet experiences are particular to that individual animal, and do not represent what you can expect from other pets.
It’s kind of like the phrase – not all humans are good humans.
Sarah’s family knows what they will be naming their new dog.
They have been FaceTiming with her and have a good sense of her personality.
They will name her Soka after Ahsoka Tano.
Matt came on and shared more background on who this is. (49:02)
Sarah elaborated on fandom, nerdy shares.
When Soka is naughty they will call her snips.
Thank you, listeners, for joining in!
Stacy is excited for Sarah’s family to welcome the newest member of their family.
They are in for such a treat!
Sarah knows it is going to be a lot of work to have a puppy, but not nearly as much as a baby.
There are follow up questions on this topic, which Stacy and Sarah will cover in a future episode.
If you have questions about pet ownership, be sure to submit those via the contact forms on Stacy and Sarah’s individual sites.
And please don’t forget, if you enjoyed this show, please leave a review and share with your friends and family.
Thanks again for listening!
We will be back again next week! (56:02)