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Thu, Jan 13, 2011
The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network
Happiness is a warm dog (or cat), experts say

Buying new clothes may be a quick fix for happiness, but if you want a longer-lasting alternative outside the closet, medical researchers and psychologists recommend adopting a companion animal.

"Having a pet allows a person to learn to take care of something and elevates the sense of caring, which positively supports the development of well-being," said Monty P. Satiadarma, a psychologist at the Tarumanagara University in Jakarta.

He explained the ability to express one's feelings of caring, such as for a pet, creates a sense of lightness in a person.

"People have lots of needs, and one of those is the need for nurturance. Since animals are living beings, caring for them increases the person's feeling of being meaningful to the subject being cared for and that meaningful feeling of the self supports the development of well-being," he said.

Pets are credited not only for dispelling loneliness, but also for lifting their owners out of the blues.

Dogs are able to pick up on a master's feelings almost instinctively, which can strengthen the bonds between master and pet, Monty explained.

"Every experience we have triggers our glands to secrete a liquid or an antibody, and a canine's powerful olfactory sense can smell and interpret these body chemicals our glands give off as either positive or negative, so whenever an owner has stress, it will be sensed by the dog," he said.

Putu Tommy Yudha S. Suyasa, a lecturer in psychology also at Tarumanagara University, said, "It's understood that when we are happier, we are healthier, and pets provide us with that connection by helping us feel not alone, and that in turn elevates our feelings of well-being and happiness."

Monty, who oversaw a research paper on the positive effects of animal companionship on the elderly, and Tommy, who assisted him, said those who are living alone would benefit healthwise from having an animal as they help their owners feel less anxiety and alleviate feelings of isolation.

"Both having pets and caring for pets trigger feelings of care and that is emotionally healthy [for any age]," Monty added.

Tommy, who has owned a dog for seven years, said a pet gives owners renewed purpose, distracts them from daily problems, encourages communication with others, and allows another outlet for physical exercise. In turn, these benefits brighten a person's overall outlook on life.

An Australian study discovered that those who owned an animal had lower blood pressure and lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as a reduced likelihood of developing heart disease than those who did not have a pet. In addition, the study observed that these risks were still lower despite the pet owners' consumption of above average amounts of meat and fast food.

Another study of heart attack victims in the US noted those who were pet owners usually survived another year longer than those who did not own an animal.

Long-term healthcare facilities abroad recognize the health benefits that pets provide to humans, and enlist companion animals to help patients cope with terminal illnesses and physical, mental or emotional disabilities.

Resident or visiting cats and dogs are considered invaluable assistants with their selfless characteristics of companionship, comfort and attention they provide for patients, and are shown to effectively complement treatments for a number of mental health disorders, especially depression, autism and dementia.

Medical care workers abroad have observed that patients interacting with animals become less anxious, respond better to treatment and communicate easier with the therapist.

While animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy in hospitals and institutions abroad has grown in popularity over the past several decades, it is not a new health trend.

Animal-assisted therapy can be traced back to British Quakers in the 18th century, who would have farm animals interact with mentally ill patients to avoid the unpleasant psychiatric treatments commonly used at the time.

Although conditions in Indonesia may not be conducive for the arrival of animal-assisted therapy as of yet, Monty was optimistic about the future as he noticed more people accepting pets in their lives as evidenced by the growing number of animal salons sprouting up around the capital.

He also said people were quite surprised to learn from the media that Muslims in other countries used and cared for dogs that played an important role in locating explosive devices.

Birds and fish might not be as cute and cuddly as their furry counterparts, but Monty said they occupied a special place in people's hearts here.

"Freshwater fish are kept in ponds as pets and in Central Java songbirds are bred not only for competition, but to enjoy their singing."

Aside from animals improving human health and well-being, Monty pointed out that owners find their pets listen with compassion at the end of a trying day, accept them without judgment and give limitless entertainment without lifting a paw.

While the medical community will expound how important it is for humans to be around animals, pet owners can feel reassurance in knowing their lives are enriched from having a familiar furry friend waiting at the door for them when they come home.

-The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

 
 
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