STUDIES: CANINE COMPANIONSHIP, VOLUNTEERING ARE GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
Peggy Dey knows what it's like to deal with health problems – she had back surgery several years ago to correct a herniated disk, and had the anterior cruciate ligament reconstructed on her left knee after a martial arts injury. The New Hill, North Carolina artist is also in the middle of a stressful year that could threaten her blood pressure and cause other medical problems.
Thank goodness, she says, for her furry friends.
"I get much more exercise than I used to because of our dogs," says Dey, whose animal-friendly household includes two family dogs, one rescued pooch waiting for a new home and two puppies who are dropped off daily for doggy day-care, including two-daily walks.
"Even on the most stressful day, you can't be angry or stressed out when you see a puppy playing," Dey says. "When you sit down and a dog lies down next to you, you realize that you're going to get through whatever it is that's stressing you out."
Dey has discovered what many dog and animal lovers know, and what numerous studies support – that people who live with puppies, dogs and other animals gain tremendous health benefits from their companionship.
"I like to call it 'puppy valium,'" Dey says. "You just feel better when there is a puppy around, and it’s better than any medical prescription."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, living with pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness, and can increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, as well as socialization with other people.
Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that stockbrokers who obtained a pet reduced the increase in blood pressure associated with stress by half. An additional study determined that participants who had pets had significantly lower baseline heart rate and blood pressure than participants who did not have pets, and had lower "reactivity" to stress tests.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a non-profit guide dog school located in Yorktown Heights, New York, offers hundreds of volunteers the health benefits of canine companionship through its Canine Development Center’s Puppy Raising and Brood & Stud programs.
In the Puppy Raising Program, individuals, couples and families all along the Eastern seaboard raise specially-bred puppies in a loving home environment for 14-16 months, where they teach the young dogs house manners, and socialize them in numerous situations. The puppies are then returned to Guiding Eyes to be trained as guide dogs.
"It is amazing how many people repeat Puppy Raise," says Lee Nordin, Director of Canine Development "It is habit forming in the very best sense of the word. People not only give a tremendous gift but they also receive so much benefit from raising a puppy with a purpose!"
The Brood & Stud program enables families to foster very special, "cream-of-the-crop" Guiding Eyes dogs for a lifetime, returning them to the organization periodically for breeding. Both programs offer an opportunity to enjoy the health benefits of canine companionship, including human socializing and regular exercise.
Laura Feinstein, a Guiding Eyes Puppy Raiser who lives in Central Connecticut, agrees. Since bringing home puppy Fernando, Feinstein has been walking three miles a day and has lost 25 pounds. She also renewed neighborhood friendships that had drifted when her children grew into teenagers.
"Having a puppy in my life made it so much easier to make healthier lifestyle changes without it seeming like extra work," Feinstein says. "I suddenly found time every morning before work to get out for a walk, even when the sun was just beginning to rise and it was below freezing. Although I first began this routine because it was good exercise for my pup, it didn’t take long to notice the positive effects this was having on me."
Becky Burdumy, another Connecticut Puppy Raiser, says that having a puppy that required daily exercise inspired her to become a runner, and then a triathlete.
"While raising our first puppy, I got motivated to learn how to run. We started out with a short combination of walking and running until I was able to run a full 30 minutes," Burdumy says. "Our puppy and I became a great running team and he was very happy running. He needed to be walked and I needed to exercise to stay young and strong. A year later I participated in a Mini Triathlon."
Additional studies have revealed that volunteering itself is also good for human health. A report titled "The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research" from the Corporation for National and Community Service report states that volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease. Guiding Eyes volunteers, therefore, get a double-dose of health benefits, because they are providing a needed service to society and the blind community.
"My pup has been a great source of motivation, a friend and a cheerleader who offers unconditional love and support," says Feinstein. "Raising a pup can't help but improve your state of mind…and it doesn't get any better than giving someone the gift of independence. How often in life do you get an opportunity like that?"
For more information about the Guiding Eyes Puppy Raising program or the Brood-Stud Program, call the Canine Development Center at 1-866-GEB-LABS or visit the Center’s Web site at www.cdc.guidingeyes.org.
About Guiding Eyes for the Blind
In 1954, Guiding Eyes for the Blind was founded to enrich the lives of blind and visually impaired men and women. Since that time, Guiding Eyes has become one of the foremost guide dog schools in the world, graduating more than 6,000 guide dog teams. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) organization. It provides professionally trained Guiding Eyes dogs, training and lifetime support services to students free of charge with funds raised solely through the generosity of individuals, corporations, foundations and civic organizations. Guiding Eyes for the Blind's Headquarters and Training Center is located in Yorktown Heights, New York and its Canine Development Center is located in Patterson, New York.