Around 44% of Americans own a dog and 29% own a cat, which is testimony to the huge importance that pets have in our lives. The bond between dogs and human beings in particular goes back thousands of years, yet it wasn’t until very recently that scientists discovered the important benefits that pets can bring. One study published this year found that children raised in a countryside environment, surrounded by animals and dust, grow up to have more resilient immune systems. They also may be at a lower risk of mental illness than pet-free urban dwellers. Pets provide company and boost our physical and mental health, but what important lessons can they teach us?
Pets and the Beauty of Nature
It is well known that pets can make us healthier by inspiring us to head out into the Great Outdoors for daily walks, runs, or other forms of exercise. Most Americans spend half an hour or less in nature, denying themselves the significant benefits that nature brings – including a powerful reduction in levels of stress hormone, cortisol. Dogs force us to get active and moving even on days when we would rather be couch potatoes. The sedentary lifestyle is linked to obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Why not make the most of the majestic outdoors alongside your four pawed friend?
A Child’s Best Friend
Animal lovers know that one of the most characteristic features of pets, is their unconditional love for their humans. They always stand by us, even when the weather is poor and we can’t take them for a walk, or when we are low in spirits and not in the mood to play. This type of friendship is key for children, especially when they are having a little argument with a friend. Our pet’s upbeat attitude can also be used as an example that parents can rely on when they can’t take their child to the park because it is raining or they cannot afford a toy their little one has been coveting. Parents can point out that in the same way that their pets are always keen to share love and have a fun time (with nothing more than a leash, the outdoors, and a good run), we, too, should stick together even when times are tough or when plans are foiled.
Love is Responsibility
As children get a little older, they can be given increasingly important responsibilities. For instance, they can be entrusted with giving their pet a good bath and ensuring they receive grooming and other care at the right time. Older kids who have a smartphone can use the calendars on their phone to keep track of due dates for appointments and medication. They can also take responsibility for finding quality products – everything from kitty litter trays to scratching posts. Kids don’t need to leave home to find objectively praised products. Online sites can help because they review pet products objectively, providing a number of different brands and listing the pros and cons of popularly used products, treatment, and food. Making sure a pet has all it needs shows kids that love doesn’t just mean petting and pampering a pet; it also involves work.
The Hardest Lesson
They say the one bad thing about pets is that they live for such few years. The loss of a pet can be incredibly hard on adults and children in a household alike, yet it is a key way to teach kids that death is part of the cycle of life. With older or mature kids, the death of a pet is a good time to talk about the different stages of grief, coined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. The latter noted that grieving involves making your way (sometimes in a cyclical and repetitive fashion) through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The loss of a pet can teach kids and adults alike that it is important to understand that all these stages are normal and that when you are grieving, love and support from family and friends are vital.
Pets keep us moving, they bring us back into nature and they help us keep depression and other stress-related conditions at bay. However, they can also help teach kids the importance of caring for those they love, and even teach them how to grieve. Pets bring as many lessons into our lives as we are open to. Above all, they show us the importance of resilience, loyalty, a positive attitude that sees each day as offering us the chance to have fun, be happy, and enjoy the gift that is life.