Monday, February 02nd, 2009 | Author:

What could be a better way to unwind after a hectic day than with some heavy petting? Now, now, this is a family blog site – would I be suggesting what you just thought? What I meant was that personal experience and tons of research over the years show that a pet can be an enormous stress-buster. As Josh Billings once said, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” We all could do with some unconditional love each day, don’t you think?

I’m an animal lover and find it difficult to restrain myself, especially when confronted with baby animals. Can anyone remain indifferent when confronted with a litter of frolicking puppies? We’ve always had at least one dog at home. There were a few memorable years in my adolescence when my grandmother had six dogs of various breeds running around the house. I believe that all my adolescent angst was made more tolerable because of these dogs. Each time I was sad, had a fight or was generally put out, I would sit by myself and one of the dogs would find me and stay with me, unquestioningly, till I felt better and was ready to face the world again. They never judged me, never expected me to say something intelligent or even ask for attention. All they wanted to do was to be there with me. Can you imagine such unconditional support from anyone else?

My favourite portrayal of the limitless love of animals and man is exemplified in the video clip below:

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace. – Milan Kundera

Then there was my first Labrador, Lucy. She seemed almost human in her understanding of what was happening around her. Each time my mother and I had one of our frequent battle of wills, she would rush between us, stroking each person in turn with her paw and licking our hands to calm us down. She would sit by me and lick away my tears while I coped with the travails of teenage life. I sincerely believe that only a dog has that special way of making you feel loved and needed and of telling you that you might just be the most wonderful person on this planet. Such is a dog’s love for its human. The dog doesn’t want anything in return.

One experience I will never forget is when my dog saved my daughter’s life. We had this huge German Shepherd, Tarzan, who we fondly thought of as our guard dog. He was scared of firecrackers, smoke and even puppies, but in the minds of his loving parents (my husband and I) he was this fierce watchdog with a loud bark. One afternoon, while I was upstairs napping in my bedroom and my daughter was entertaining herself playing in the garden, I heard Tarzan barking relentlessly. He usually did not bark this way. He seemed to be extremely troubled by something and my first thought was that my 4-year-old was trying to kill him! I quickly went down to investigate and found Tarzan standing between my daughter and a Cobra, who was ready to strike. I almost fainted. My daughter was intrigued by the snake that had somehow managed to find a way into our garden. Tarzan had sensed its presence and kept barking at it so that it could come no further towards the house. My daughter was standing 2 feet behind Tarzan with her ball, as though she had just missed playing with the snake because of the dog’s intervention. While Tarzan kept the snake busy, I took my daughter away and managed to call the watchman. After this, the watchman took over, caught the snake and took it away. Tarzan immediately calmed down and so did I.

Tarzan saves the day!

Tarzan saves the day!

But it isn’t just dogs who can be a man’s best friend. Any pet can have that stress-relieving effect on you. I’ve kept fish and turtles and for a short while I even had a cat. I could spend hours just staring at the fish swim lazily through the aquarium. It was such a soothing feeling. The cat was more of a challenge because unlike dogs who think the human is GOD, cats think that they are GOD and we are there to serve them. So having the cat jump up on my lap and curl up to get her belly scratched was a feeling similar to having climbed Mt. Everest – I had won the love of a feline!!

One reason a dog can be such a comfort when you’re feeling blue is that he doesn’t try to find out why.  ~Author Unknown

You don’t have to take my word for it – just look at the vast body of research that supports the positive effects of owning a pet or even spending time with an animal on the mind and body. A study by researchers at UCLA School of Public Health has demonstrated conclusively that men living with AIDS who owned a pet suffered significantly lower degrees of depression than those who did not own a pet. Not only the companionship offered by the animal but the exercise involved in walking a dog or cleaning up after birds and cats helped keep the men with AIDS active and happier than those who did not need to look after a pet.

Similarly, there are numerous studies that vouch for the fact that having a pet at home actually helps lower blood pressure, alleviate feelings of loneliness and increase social support by helping us meet other animal lovers when we walk the dog. A study of 92 patients who had recently suffered from angina or a heart attack reveals that while 28% of the patients who did not own pets died within the next one year, only 6% of the patients with pets suffered a similar fate.

Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.  ~George Eliot

There is nothing more comforting than pups snuggling against you

Almost like something out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a study also found that patients who watched fish swimming in an aquarium during oral surgery experienced greater degree of relaxation (as measured through blood pressure and muscle tension readings). Pet therapy has been used for several years now, with trained animals visiting various nursing homes, hospitals and hospices in the US on a regular basis. The patients exposed to pet therapy not only reported a positive impact on their sense of well being but doctors also found marked alleviation of symptoms and faster recovery in these patients. Trained dogs have been helping children with learning disabilities learn to read. Children with autism have also found to benefit through interactions with animals.

If you take a dog which is starving and feed him and make him prosperous, that dog will not bite you. This is the primary difference between a dog and a man. – Mark Twain

This irrefutable body of evidence brings me to the next question – How do I know what pet is best for me? You can choose from dogs, cats, birds, fish and even mice and hamsters. The kind of pet you opt for should suit your lifestyle, preferences and temperament. After all, we don’t want to add to the existing stress levels by choosing a pet that needs more attention that you are able to take time out for. You also need to ensure that the pet you choose is suitable for your living space. For instance, a large dog would be a menace in a small flat.

You would also need to get information about food and medical care the pet would need, the cost involved and whether you are comfortable taking on the additional responsibility and cost. The best place to get information is by visiting a neighbourhood vet. There is also extensive information available on the net. Also remember to consult your doctor regarding any allergies that you or your family members might experience. Many people are allergic to dog and cat hair.

There also are a lot of misconceptions about various animals, which need to be rectified at home before you bring in a pet. No dog will bite unless provoked and a dog’s lick does not infect you with germs.

Hugging someone can only spread love not germs

And talking about misconceptions, let me tell you about the time when my daughter bit the dog. Remember, the fierce guard dog, Tarzan? My daughter was about 3 years old at this time and she loved playing dogs, except she had her rules! For instance, the Labrador wasn’t allowed to lick her face although her face was at the same height as the dog’s face and therefore the most accessible part of her body. I once caught this strange interaction between Maya (my daughter) and Zoe (the Labrador). Zoe would lick her face, Maya would slap her in response, so Zoe would lick her again to apologize, so Maya would slap her again and this went on for about 10 minutes till I stopped them. But I am digressing. I wanted to tell you about how Maya bit the guard dog! At this time of her life, Tarzan was taller than Maya but loved her nonetheless. He loved being with her and have her treat him like a horse, ball catcher and general guinea pig. On this particular occasion that I want to recount, Tarzan kept nudging Maya with his head to play with him but she was busy colouring and so kept pushing him away. But he was persistent and kept nudging her till she got really fed up and turned around and bit his neck, tearing away a chunk of hair in her teeth. Poor Tarzan was in shock and tried to lick Maya to pacify her. I, of course, ran to wash her mouth and give her a piece of my mind – humans don’t bite dogs and that’s a cardinal rule.

A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.  ~Robert Benchley

Coming back to my personal experience, I find that the cost really isn’t that much, and certainly massively outweighed by the benefits. I have also seen the benefits owning a pet has had on my daughter. It has helped her focus on something beyond her own needs, made her take responsibility on her young shoulders and feel a sense of achievement through her efforts at looking after the pets. I believe these are irreplaceable learning experiences and I know that they will stand her in good stead as she grows up and interacts with the world at large. The greatest achievement I think has been that my daughter has developed a sense of compassion and love that I rarely see in children her age. When we go out shopping, Maya always makes sure we visit a pet store and bring home some chewy things for the dogs. She always insists on going with us whenever we need to visit the vet, just to ensure that the dogs were getting the proper treatment! And she is unable to see a hurt animal on the road. I am a better person because of Maya’s concern for the well being of animals at this tender age of five.

So let me leave you to think about how you can lead a longer, happier and healthier life by owning a pet with this quote:

The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue.  ~Author Unknown

As a parting shot, enjoy the “Animal Song” by Savage Garden to some of the cutest animal pictures in the video clip below:

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14 Responses

  1. 1

    Hi Romila, I never thought I would be saying this, but I loved your article, considering that the moment i spot a four legged being, (usually they spot me first) my first instinct is to run for my life. Most of the time, its still what i do.

    The story about Tarzan saving your daughter’s life touched me a lot. I can understand. My mom is a lot like you in the sense she loves dogs and I grew up with at least four dogs in the house.

    The only thing was that the dogs and I had a tacit understanding not to scare each other. Well, i remember we had a beautiful dog called Lucky. He was really handsome and majestic, a very rare breed but sadly i can’t remember the name.

    Like Tarzan, he saved my mom’s life by warning her of a snake……I remember, he was given to us by an Egyptian gentleman who cried and told my mom that Lucky is so attached that he wouldnt eat for days from a stranger. He was right. Lucky didnt eat food from my mom for two or three days but my mom was great with him and won his love and respect. Then she became his life and light. He would run to her for everything, play games with her and he filled our home with lots of joy by just being there. We felt secure when Lucky was around us.

    Lucky was perhaps the only dog that i felt safe with. He never tried to get close to me and yet i always sensed he understood me. I loved him in my own way and i think he loved me too. He would play and be very noisy with my mom and sister but with me, he would just be very still, loving and watchful in a very reassuring way.

    When we had to come to India, we gave Lucky away. I still remember crying and i remember us saying bye to him. The funny thing is, Lucky had tears coming out of his eyes. I can remember it even now and feel the tears in my eyes.

    I also loved the facts you stated about pets, in general. I had an aquarium while i was in my rebellious phase. Just watching the fishes really gave me a feeling of peace and balance.

    I had a favorite goldfish that i called Naren ( i am an avid fan of Swami Vivekananda). A friend gave me two beautiful, sleek sharkfish and without knowing its dangers, I put it in the aquarium. The sharkfish attacked the goldfish. I didnt realize till much later that Naren had been wounded badly, his skin or gills had been ripped off and the sharkfish was deadly.

    Though we tried healing Naren by removing him, putting medicines for him and praying a lot, Naren died. That night, i cried and cried and gave my aquarium away because I couldnt bear to deal with losing Naren because of my own carelessness. Pets mean so much to our life and existence, some of us realize it, some of us don’t.

    Thanks Romila for writing what you did. Sometimes we need to remember these wonderful beings who add goodness and unconditional love into our lives.

  2. 2

    A very well-written blog. I could actually feel what you do. The pics are beautiful…

  3. I finally got the time to read the blog! It’s FABULOUS. Of course, the fact that I love dogs had a little to do with my opinion of the story. I am usually petting street dogs and people keep telling me that I may get some horrid disease. And I think to myself… is it better to get a horrid disease or to never share the love? I don’t think the latter can ever win! I guess because I receive more love from them than I can ever give. Coming back to the blog… one can tell that it comes from the heart and that’s what makes it so wonderfully touching. Keep writing!

  4. 4
    Piyush Nigam 

    It is a beautiful site to see how you connect with pets in general and dogs in specific. Interesting things flow back into our life when we connect lovingly with the universe. The channel of connection is often pets….but then there are people who connect in strange ways with a place they like to go to, the rain falling freely on their body, the sight of the setting sun, a coin in their purse, a motorcycle that they drive, a particular flower they love to smell, a statue made of stone and a gamut of other things…they seem to have this strange dialogical relationship with these objects and the effect it has on their lives vary from taking the pain away to curing them of diseases that seemed incurable.
    Things begin to get more interesting when we start connecting with everything in the universe!
    @Swapna – that comment could have been a blog by itself 🙂

  5. 5

    Romila, i have read and heard your love for pets. From this blog of yours i also know now, how you swoosh your troubles away. We also know your source of energy. I really liked the compilation of quotes by so many authors but I liked Milan Kundera’s view the most. True dogs do not understand jealousy and they are link to paradise. with man, they date back to ancient civilisation, Dog is also the man’s best friend, goes a common saying.

    In the end, a very nice written blog, informative. We got to know to know you a little better from this piece!

    if you delve deep into a dog’s association

  6. 6

    I believe this is the best piece i have ever read…. the way this art displays sensitiveness and love showered by dogs is rare. It made me remember the time when i myself was blessed with my own pet dog’s love!!

  7. 7

    I agree, its such a heartwarming topic, and something that will always be topical. In today’s climate of rage and intolerance, who can best teach humans how to behave??? Very well put together, Romila.S!!

  8. 8

    no wonder the rhetoric ‘all men are dogs’ ..such love we have for all. Am almost going to cry..;)

  9. 9

    I am also very fond of dogs, though i don’t have one.But i have an aquarium and had a huge goldfish.It was one of my favourite fish of the lot.But during the AILA we had no electricity for two days and the filter couldn’t be operated, so due to the lack of oxygen it died.I was surprised to see the awful condition of my favorite fish lying in the aquarium.I was very shocked that day,and i was not feeling like to take a glance at the aquarium.

  10. 10
    Shubhajit Das 

    Hi!i have a aquarium tank.i took this liking of fish from my dearest friend Akash.I have many fishes in the tank bu t my favourite is the Piranna and the Varanda gold.They are very big in size.I give my piranna raw liver and hence it has a nice colour.The veranda fish has a big cap on his head it is in deep red colour.

  11. 11
    Shubhajit Das 

    Hi!I have a dog too or our family member.he is a black Labrador Retriever.His name is Tyson.He is very friendly.He is very quite too.he always try to lick me when he is playing with me.I think he loves to disturb my Grandmother and scare my dearest friend Akash.He is very notty looking at the pictures you all can understand.

  12. 12

    hi!I am a good friend of Akash &Shubhajit.I have a fish tank.
    It has 2 goldfish, 2guppies,2 veranda gold, 2 angels and 2zebra fish

  13. 13

    hi! Though I’ve got a fish tank, I love dogs more than my fishes. It is not only a companion but also a true friend . Pug and Labrador Ritriever are some of my favourite dogs.
    I want to keep a pug or black labrador but I need my mother’s permission.

  14. 14

    Shubhojit, as you told me that you are buying a White labrador in January,did you suggest any name for him/her.If you haven’t decided any name for that i can suggest name.Please inform if you are buying a male or a female as the name will be given according to that.

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