Animals offer comforting connection beneficial to emotional health


Art by Joanna Yu

Ji-Sung Lee

[dropcap]K[/dropcap]nown as man’s best friend, dogs often receive this title because of their loyalty and companionship to humans. But sometimes, a best friend is more than just a dog. A companion can be other pets and animals, too.
Animal companionship is a bond built on more than just interactions. According to PAWsitive Interaction,  an institution that promotes and celebrates the positive impacts of the human-animal bond, stated that relations with animals can create social, emotional, physical and behavioral benefits with their combination of play and energy.
Not only are pets capable of sensing feelings, but Animal Planet said pets have the ability to also boost owner’s moods and bring joy. For junior Corrine Cranor, however, animals do more than just bring happiness. She has a connection with her furry friends and believes they understand her, often more than humans do.
“I have a pet cat named Scaredy and a leopard gecko named Rascal.  Scaredy has a very strong bond with me,” Cranor said. “I was the first person she ever touched as far as we know, and she has always been able to forgive me very easily.  I am her person.”
As a professor and director for the Center for the Human-Animal Bond, Alan Beck’s scientific journal, “Biology of the Human-Animal Bond”, sees significant implications in the relationship between animals and people.
“Humans, as a species, have evolved to be attentive to nature and animals, especially animals that have juvenile features, which evoke our nurturing behaviors. The comforts we get from animals provide the social support we desire and need for us to thrive,” Dr. Beck said. “In a similar way, our domestic animals are social species that find comfort from being in our company. Therefore,  it should not be surprising that our bonding with animals has many positive health benefits; indeed, it would be difficult to explain if they did not.”
Cranor’s attraction to animals is based off more than just their fluffy tails or floppy ears.  She believes it’s an attachment and a sense of sympathy she feels for them.
[quote]“I am extremely fond of animals in general and can’t physically hurt one myself, though I’m a hypocrite who still eats meat. Go figure,” Cranor said.  “I’m extremely scared of spiders, but I just can’t make myself hurt them, so I often nervously try to catch them and take them outside.  Animals are gorgeous creatures, and they can feel emotions, if at the very least love and fear.”[/quote] Like Cranor, Dr. Sandra Barker, a psychiatry professor and human-animal interaction researcher, believes it’s the bonds that make people so attached.  People are often so focused on caring for animals and pets because they know on the flip side, animals will care for people, too.
“Research shows that even patients with chronic illnesses, including heart disease and [human immunodeficiency virus] HIV can be helped through the human-animal bond,” Dr. Barker said.  “[There are] physiological and psychological benefits.  The link between animals and mental health has great therapeutic potential.”
In certain cases the Tufts Institute for Human Interaction said some people can admit that animals have the ability to heal and enrich lives. With their potential to develop empathy, form and express attachments and help react to grief and loss, people can find themselves more content when they’re surrounded by animals.
Like the Tufts Institute, Dr. Beck believes the health benefits of the human to animal relations can also be effectively utilized in therapeutic settings.
“The concept of attachment to pets is widely accepted as the best explanation of the relation with our companion animals. Attachments to pets are often viewed as being even more secure than those with people,” Dr. Beck said.  “All the psychological skills used to assess our relation with our pets are based on human attachment. Like all emotional needs, at times, the attachment people have to their pets can be exaggerated and even pathological, interfering with normal daily functioning, but for the most part, our relation with companion animals is beneficial to all involved.”
Not only do these creatures bring calmness to people’s lives, but in Cranor’s case they can act as a reminder for things she cherishes in life.
“Pets seem to be our way of showing we have enough responsibility to care for another being.  Growing a bond with an animal, be it wild or a pet, is extremely important in this world where we are constantly subjected to judgement by our superiors and peers.  They just care you’re the one who feeds them and gives them warmth,” Cranor said. “The simplicity of smaller animals’ quiet existences can remind me of the complexities of mine, and relaxing with one, like my lizard, can give me a quiet, simple moment. [It] is a good stress reliever. Often times when I’m near animals I’ve bonded with, I feel calm and caring. However, when I start thinking about how much shorter their lives are than mine, I start to feel very sad, usually accompanied by a pain in my chest, [a] literal heartache.”
Do you have a special connection with animals? Let us know in the comments below.