The comfort and companionship that a dog, cat or even a bird brings to all levels of modern society cannot be over emphasized. For the elderly living alone, the value of the presence of another living being, always cheerful and responsive, cannot be calculated.
Very often the pet is a reminder of times shared with other members of the family now absent. Indeed, the pet is considered as a member of the family that has endured and silently weathered the good and the hard times of its owner.
Realizing the importance of pets to the elderly, many progressive nursing homes now allow pets or at least encourage people to bring their animals to visit the home. Obedience-training clubs are encouraged to regularly hold displays so that the inmates of the home can follow the progress of their favorite pet.
The young also derive great comfort from a pet. When the adult world seems unfair, the predictable and cheerful responses from a pet often rapidly heal the wrong. The responsibility of caring for the pet provides useful practice for the more slightly obligations acquired in later life.
The benefits of pet ownership, although not disputed, are difficult to actually prove. Recently, some studies were done which actually measured some of the beneficial effects derived from the presence of a pet.
Blood pressure was measured in groups of people recruited from veterinarian’s waiting rooms. Readings were taken at rest, then the subjects were allowed to stroke their pet, then made to read aloud. In both adults and children the effect on the blood pressure was the same.
When the pet was present, the pressure decreased. When reading aloud the pressure increased, but the magnitude of the increase was less in groups where the pet was present. The reduction in blood pressure was greatest when the pet was present all the time.
In another study the length of time that two groups of individuals survived after a heart attack was examined. One group lived alone while the other group owned a pet. The pet-owning group had a significantly longer life expectancy.
Possibly the effect of being able to talk to and touch a friendly animal reduces the stress and anxiety. Feeding, grooming and exercising may provide a useful distraction from one’s own cares, as well as providing a reason to live.
Whatever else is derived from owning a pet, the ever-cheerful, forgiving, welcoming, predictable responses that one gets from a pet, regardless of one’s success, wealth, or station, will always be easier to achieve than the ephemeral benefits derived from many human associations.