A very ill cancer patient was determined to get home to see Max again. Not his son. Not his wife, Maxine. “He was talking about his dog, Max," Dr. Edward Creagan, a professor of medical oncology at the Mayo Clinic, was quoted as saying in a paper authored by PAWSitive InterAction, an Atlanta, Georgia-based organization that promotes and celebrates the human-animal bond.
"We can no longer ignore the medical significance of the bond people have with their pets,” said Creagan. “There is a rock-solid, indisputable mind-body connection that is vectored by our pets. Our pets create a balance between our minds and our bodies.”
While most have felt this bond, knowledge of how it works is constantly investigated and readjusted because there is still so much not understood.
The species Canis evolved over some 15,000 years of close contact with humans. Scientists are still debating when and where the bond originated, but DNA studies suggest that dog domestication happened even before the emergence of agriculture. There's no doubt that without dogs, and the companionship of cats, which began about 10,000 years ago, human life would be very different today.
Enid Traisman, pet loss support and art therapy program director for DoveLewis, says caring for companion animals is like caring for a child. “Petting, hugging and cuddling our pets releases a rush of endorphins which make us (and them) feel so good," she says. “Spending time together brings our blood pressure down to healthy levels. Being enthusiastically greeted upon returning home makes our houses homes. They are often a social bridge, helping us meet new people in our community during walks, classes, visits to the veterinarian, etc. When people come to the support group and share their stories, they often express gratitude and wonder that they were blessed to be able to connect with their pet so deeply, like a soulmate. It’s an amazing feeling, truly magical to share the human/animal bond at its most beautiful."
Advances in medicine and holistic care prove people now value their pet’s health as much as their own. Dr. Mary Mandeville of Animotion Chiro was inspired to offer holistic pet care 25 years ago when her dog, to whom she was deeply bonded, became ill. “People bring their animals for chiropractic care," she says. “Right there that's a demonstration of how bonded we are."
While researchers say they can't scientifically “prove” that animals love us, they certainly act like they do. Dr. Mandeville says she’s seen evidence enough times that she has no doubt — but admits she doesn't fully understand it. Sometimes, while working with a patient and talking with the pet parent, she realizes the two express tension in the same way — sometimes tilting the head, others tightening the shoulders.
"We're mammals," she says. "We're enough like each other that we were set up to be companions. We didn't domesticate house flies or lizards with teeny beady eyes that we can't relate to. We were primed to communicate with dogs through facial expressions and smells and sounds because we do it ourselves."
Animal communicator, Reiki Master and TTouch practitioner Ute Luppertz of Pets Point of View believes dogs are naturally empathic. “That’s why they decided to become domesticated in the first place," she says. “A wild tiger might not do that.”
Luppertz shared a story of a dog with mobility issues whose parents took him to every holistic practitioner they could find. The dog was "just done" being poked and prodded when Luppertz met him, she says. She turned to Reiki, allowing manipulation of the dog's energy without touching. The pet parents reported the dog became much calmer when treatments involving touch ended.
"We're so attached to our animals that we sometimes can't see what's going on,” says Luppertz. “So with energy work it can really help smooth out the edges — I call it harmonizing.”
Luppertz says people typically seek to train dogs to do desired behaviors. She suggests taking a step back and considering body language. "Not just the usual things," she says, "but notice when your dog wants to make eye contact. Gaze into his or her eyes, meld with him. Sit on the couch and don't just do automatic petting, which can be over arousing, but be very mindful and see how you can read each other in a different way."
DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital * www.dovelewis.org
Dr. Mary Mandeville * Animotion Chiro * www.animotionchiro.com
Ute Luppertz * Pets Point of View * www.pets-point-of-view.com
Vanessa Salvia's love for animals began as a child, when stray kittens just seemed to follow her home (who thankfully her family accommodated. She now lives on a sheep farm outside of Eugene, Oregon, with a llama named Linda, a dog, a cat, a rabbit, two kids and a patient husband.