Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022 |
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Many days, when I return from another run to our Lihue home, I am greeted by our dog, Ipo.
She waits, usually, in the front yard, where she has a clear view of the street leading to our driveway. As I pass by (my finish line isn’t for another block where the street deadends), she’ll sometimes run down and join me. She’ll race a few circles around me, tongue hanging, ears flopping, then quickly charge back up to her post, where she plops down again. It’s as if she wants to show me that though she may be about 11 years old, she loves to run and she’s faster than me. Perhaps it’s that she’s just glad to see me. It’s been about a year and half since we took in this yellow lab/hound mix when her elderly owners returned to the Mainland and couldn’t take her with them. So my wife and I became Ipo’s new owners.
My wife says I spoil her, which I do.
Most of the time, Ipo lounges around the yard and sleeps. Her chicken-chasing days are behind her. Because I feel guilty leaving her home alone, I like her to join us on our treks around the island, so the backseat of our Honda Fit belongs to her. I bring her big dog bed inside our home each night and place it in the living room where she likes it. She usually gets some of my dinner, and I don’t mind when she wakes up at 3 a.m. so she can charge outside because she heard something around the lanai. Storms frighten her, so when the rain comes crashing down at night, I’ll wake up to find her squirreled up to my side of the bed. When my wife was gone to the Mainland for two months, I slept soundly knowing Ipo was guarding the screen door each night. And when I’m gone to work, Ipo is on high alert and growls if any strangers come up our driveway.
For someone as high-strung as me, Ipo is a calming effect. I figure she probably keeps my stress levels and blood pressure from killing me. I don’t even complain, well maybe a little, about the cost of feeding her and how quickly my freshly vacuumed car is covered with dog hair. When it comes to Ipo, I receive far more than I give.
Which leads to the point of this column.
Sure, there are expenses and inconveniences and annoyances that come with dog ownership. Dogs can bark too much. They escape yards and get lost. They get off leashes and you have to chase them down. They do their business on the living room rug or somewhere in public and you forgot the plastic bags. They chew up stuff they shouldn’t. They get hurt or sick and need to see a veterinarian and run up bills. Not all dogs are as smart and brave as Lassie.
But they also offer many benefits most people might not be aware of. Here, in a quick bit of online research and in chatting with dog owners and from personal experience, are a few:
In a 2002 study at State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers found that when conducting a stressful task, people experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a spouse, family member or close friend was nearby.
Lowers blood pressure
Marty Becker, a veterinarian, consultant for “Good Morning America” and author of several books on dogs and their behavior, had this to say: “If you have a dog around, your blood pressure is lower. A lot of it goes back to reducing stress: You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k) — but you’ll never lose the unconditional love of your pet.”
Better heart health
A Chinese study found that people who own dogs get better sleep at night and are sick less often. Other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.
Becker said a pet is “Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety. The less anxiety, the less pain.” One study from Loyola University found that people who use pet therapy while recovering from surgery may need significantly less pain medication than those who do not.
Improved social life
Go for a walk with your dog around Kauai and it’s like an invitation to conversation with strangers. Kalapaki Beach is a great place to walk your best friend and meet folks who are on vacation and miss their dogs back on the Mainland so they need their canine fix.
“People who have pets are less harried; there’s more laughter in their life,” Becker said. “When you come home, it’s like you’re George Clooney. You’re a star.” I’ll vouch for that.
One of my favorite books is “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. It’s told from the dog’s perspective and based in the city where I grew up, Seattle. There’s a scene where the dog, Enzo, is sitting up late, guarding his owner’s wife who is dying of cancer. It is beautifully written. The first time I tried to read it out loud to my wife, I couldn’t even finish it.
Now, don’t rush out and get a dog after reading this endorsement of pet ownership. I don’t have scientific evidence for the health benefits cited. I can’t prove owning a dog will lower your blood pressure or improve your cholesterol count or help you sleep better. I don’t know if your aches and pains will go away. I’m not sure if your anxieties will disappear.
But having owned, loved, and buried five dogs, I can tell you, with certainty, dogs make life better.
If you don’t believe me, I leave you with this quote from Roger Caras, a photographer, writer and TV personality who died in 2001:
“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe, we are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.”
Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island newspaper. He can be reached at email@example.com
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