As Thanksgiving is upon us, we should give special thanks for our pets. Be they big and sloppy, tiny and skittish, noble or ornery, shy or zealous, they have carved out a huge place in our lives, and they are individuals who could never be fully replaced.
Research shows that people who own pets live long, healthy lives, lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Those with pets tend to recover from illnesses faster and pet owners seem to experience less stress. Pet owners in general are less likely to need to visit a doctor or take medications.
In Australia, a country that has more pets than any other in the world, claims that cats and dogs saved their national health expenditure an estimated $3.86 billion. Aside for the medical benefits, people with pets are happier, less lonely and more content.
So what is it about our pets that makes our lives so much better? Perhaps it's in their ability to bring us balance and a level of intimacy we may not otherwise have.
Pets provide balance. If you are not a terribly "driven" person, who would otherwise be a couch potato, your dog or cat is probably getting you off the couch and on your feet. Your pet's invitation to play is hard to resist. Your dog may enthusiastically request a walk, or a least go outside. If you are over-scheduled and too busy to breathe, when your dog or cat asks to be petted and loved, it will cause you to take a moment to slow down and enjoy life-as often as possible.
If you are extremely neat and tidy, your pet will teach you that having an immaculate house may not be as important (or obtainable) as you once thought. Isn't that the truth! There is nothing like a freshly washed kitchen floor with paw prints going across it.
If you are a shy person, your pet will help you meet people and talk to them. Now, I am not a shy person, but when I walk Molly around the neighborhood, I often chat with neighbors when they stop to pet Molly. I sometimes think that Molly must cruise the neighborhood when I am not home (even though she is kept inside when we are gone) because more people know her name than mine!
If you are used to caring for only yourself, your pet will show you how fulfilling it is to care for someone else. If you tend to feel useless or worthless, your pet will show you how important you are. They also can assist in teaching children about responsibility. In our home my twin girls help with caring for our animals, they fill water bottles and food bowls. They also enjoy brushing the animals.
If you tend to believe that you are the king or queen of the universe, your pet will bring you the humility you need to come back down to earth, usually as you clean up after him.
Intimacy? Yes. We are able to have a relationship with our pets that is nearly impossible with other humans. We can talk to them anytime, about anything. We can just be with them, stroking their fur, communicating our feelings in our own way with or without words. Our pets understand our moods, comfort our sorrows, and never judge us. Unlike our human friends, our pets never outgrow us, never tire of us and never disappoint us.
No matter how badly you feel about yourself, your pet always thinks you are the best thing on two legs, and is always thrilled to see you. That's something to be thankful for.
Kathy Olak is a member of the Huron County Humane Society who writes a monthly column. The Humane Society investigates cases of animal abuse and neglect. The animal abuse hotline is (419) 663-7158.