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Cats

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Partisanship is a distressing topic these days. We are a divided country on so many issues, and savvy candidates in the upcoming elections try to sooth that aggravation by offering to reach across the aisle to get the nation’s business done. But here is an age-old question that is simply unbridgeable: Which are smarter, dogs or cats?

Now many of us have heard of Chaser, a border collie from Spartanburg, S.C., who understood 1,022 nouns. His owner was John Pilley, a scientist who studied canine cognition and trained his pet as part of his work. There was also a border collie named Rico who could identify 200 items. These dogs helped us reach the conclusion that dogs were extraordinarily intelligent and certainly smarter than cats. But had their partisanship colored the verdict of remarkable canine smarts on the part of owner-scientists?

Currently there seems to be a study for every question, and this one is no exception. Stephen Lea, an emeritus professor in the psychology department of the University of Exeter in Devon, England, along with Britta Osthaus, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, England, conducted one such study, according to a recent Laura Holson article in The New York Times. The results are published in the journal Learning & Behavior. In the interests of full disclosure, Lea confessed that he was a cat person. Nonetheless the scientists tried to impartially compare dog cognition with three similar groups: carnivores, social hunters and domestic animals. Among those selected were wolves, cats, chimpanzees, dolphins, horses and pigeons.

Here is what they found.

Dogs cannot use tools, unlike dolphins, New Caledonian crows and chimpanzees, which according to The Times, can harness plant stems to fish for termites. Homing pigeons are trained to fly home over great distances, and probably would be more trustworthy to travel on a 1,000-mile errand than a dog, Lea believes. Domestic animals, like horses, can also impress with their learned tasks and tricks. Dogs seem smart in part, Lea said, “because they like to be trained.” The same cannot always be said for cats.

In my dog-owning years, some 45 all together, I’ve loved and enjoyed the company of three golden retrievers and one royal (the largest) standard poodle. From this small sample, I would conclude that the poodle was the smartest. When I would sit on the sofa and read the newspaper, he would hop up on the cushion next to me, sitting upright as people and that breed do, and peer over my shoulder. I swear I think he was reading the paper, much as paperless people used to do to their paper-toting seatmates on subways before the arrival of the smartphone.

So all right, I am a bit partisan.

The conclusion that Lea’s study reaches is that dogs “are not smarter than they are supposed to be, given what they are.”

Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University in Tempe and a dog lover, recognizes merit in Lea’s study. He explains that Lea is not putting dogs down but rather putting them in their proper context. What Wynne touts about dogs is their outstanding capacity for affection.

Cats, I feel, are more aloof. So while Lea concludes that dogs are not particularly extraordinary, I would say that by being so affectionate toward humans, they have created the best possible lives for themselves. I once had a plumber working in my house who, eyeing my dog asleep on a pillow, told me, “In the next life I want to return as an American dog.”

Now if that doesn’t show superior intelligence on the part of dogs and their ability to earn that kind of existence, I’m not sure what could reveal a higher IQ. Certainly our elected officials are not nearly so endearing.

A feral cat in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

Along a right-of-way in Mount Sinai, the exact location volunteers preferred not to publicize, a number of cats stalk through the cover of tall grass on silent paws. Upon hearing human sounds, they scatter deeper into the weeds.

“Babies, babies, momma’s here,” Miller Place resident Rita Miszuk called to the wild felines as she refilled water and food trays. She said she didn’t want to give away too many specifics of the location out of fear more cats will be dropped there and left in need of care.

Miszuk is the president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc., a nonprofit that aids feral cat colonies across Long Island. Her group tries to infiltrate cat communities, taking the animals to places where they can be vaccinated, spayed and neutered, often on the organization’s own dime. Miszuk said she sometimes spends thousands of dollars to humanely control the number of wild cats roaming free.

Rita Muszik, a Miller Place resident and president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc. cares for feral cat communities. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There were 50 here, but we’ve gotten them down to 11 — they’re all healthy and they’re all taken care of,” Miszuk said. “This is what typical rescuers do.”

They’re not her cats, in fact they’re nobody’s cats. They’re considered “feral,” but that word belies the terrorized nature of these animals left in the wild. They’re shy, they’re alone, and there are more and more every year.

Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Chief Roy Gross estimated, using the organization’s own metrics, approximately 322,000 cats live in Suffolk County, including both feral and domesticated cats. For every four people in the county, there is approximately one cat.

The number of rescue groups, along with the amount of trap, neuter and release programs that attempt to capture these animals, care for them and sterilize them before releasing them back into their original environment, has gone up of late. Still, Gross said the problem only continues to grow as cats continue to breed and people leave unneutered cats in homes as they move away.

“The population is out of control,” Gross said. “[Rescue groups] put a dent in them, but there are just so many cats out there.”

One female cat can give birth to three litters in a year with an average litter of five. Multiply that by their offspring and one cat can become 225 in a year. Erica Kutzing, vice president of Sound Beach-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, suggested the problem is exacerbated by the warming climate. Where cats used to become pregnant only in the summer months, she said she is now seeing pregnant cats give birth as early as March or February as they get pregnant later in the year.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat,’” Kutzing said. “It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

A number of animal shelters exist across the North Shore, and many of them host TNR programs. Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton provides spaying and neutering for $50 per cat. Sometimes if the shelter is able to secure a grant, the price can drop to $20.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat. It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

— Erica Kutzing

Some shelters are expanding their TNR capabilities. In June, the Town of Smithtown accepted a grant to build a new TNR building at the Smithtown Animal Shelter that will expand the town’s capturing capacity, as representatives of the shelter said they estimated Smithtown hosts around 30 to 40 different cat colonies. The town plans to start construction after it receives the funds in 2019, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

David Ceely, the executive director of Little Shelter Animal Adoption Center, which is also the managing organization for the Town of Huntington Cat Shelter, said it offers residents free TNR services to deal with feral cat communities. Still, the problem is so large Little Shelter often relies on volunteers and community members to manage cat populations.

“We’re one shelter, so to go out there and take care of all of them physically we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Ceely said. “But thankfully there are people in the community who want to do the right thing, and we want to support that.”

Otherwise getting a cat spayed and neutered could cost up to hundreds of dollars per cat, depending on the animal shelter or veterinarian. It means doing TNR on an entire colony could create an incredibly restrictive cost barrier.

“We just did 24 cats in Stony Brook and the final price was about $1,400,” Kutzing said. “That came from our own funds.”

Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said small rescue groups are not large enough to combat the problem, and there is a need for community members to get involved with their own local feral cat communities.

“We get at least 20 calls a month, such as about kittens under a deck or cats with an upper respiratory infection,” Floridia said. “We handle what we can but we’re a small organization.”

Worse still is the proliferation of cats has made the population start to seem like an infestation or a blight. This mindset has fostered an environment in which some commit horrendous crimes against cats, including maiming and torturing the animals. All cats, not just domestic cats, are considered a “companion animal” by the state.

Harming them is a Class E felony punishable with a $5,000 fine and up to two years in jail. Taking a cat to another location is considered abandonment and is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000.

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There are people out there who are sadistic criminals who go out and find easy prey, generally the kittens,” Gross said. “We have had people in the past drive spikes through them, behead them, impale them, poison them — just horrible acts of animal cruelty. Some of those people are just sadistic, but in cases like poison some people just don’t like these cats roaming around on their property.”

Beyond acts of violence, many residents either don’t know what to do or don’t feel it’s their concern. If people do not interact with these community cats by either taking them to a TNR program or by feeding them, then either the cats numbers grow exponentially or they will start to die.

“Without these people who take care of the cat colonies, we would have cats starving to death,” Kutzing said. “There would just be cat bodies littered everywhere.”

Many groups and shelters like Strong Island or Little Shelter offer local residents opportunities to use their cages to trap the animals so they can later be spayed and neutered. Kutzing said if the cost prohibits a resident from acting on a cat population, they should try and get their neighbors involved and make it a community fund. After all, the community cat problem is a community issue.

“If everyone gets involved, this problem will be drastically cut,” she said.

Miszuk said while her group does what it can, she needs local businesses, residents and especially local government to step in and help, otherwise the problem will only get worse.

“This problem has been swept under the carpet,” Miszuk said. “We need support to say that we are legitimate first responders.”

Town board decides not to renew contract with current owner due to violating tax laws

The Grateful Paw Cat Shelter is located on Deposit Road in East Northport. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Huntington residents rallied behind the Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, of East Northport, this week after the Huntington Town Board announced it was evicting the shelter for failing to notify the board it had lost its 501(c)(3) not-for-profit in 2015.

Town Attorney Cindy Mangano addressed the public before the speakers began at the board meeting Tuesday, June 13, summarizing how the shelter, run by the League for Animal Protection and served exclusively by volunteers had taken this turn. She said the shelter was notified April 20 by the town to evacuate their Deposit Road establishment within 90 days due to losing their nonprofit status and violating federal and state law.

“In April, everybody here knows it’s time to file your tax returns or seek an extension,” Mangano said. “Charitable not-for-profit organizations must do the same thing. Earlier this year my office sat with Debbie Larkin, the president of LAP, and we were in the process of drafting a new agreement when we learned that a resident had incurred a penalty from the IRS for claiming a tax deduction for a donation to LAP.”

“I’m a cat lover, but five years without a filing, and it was known and the town was not told. I personally don’t have confidence in the league anymore to go forward when they knew the situation existed.”
— Frank Petrone

Mangano said the shelter had actually lost its not-for-profit status in 2015, but never advised the town, which was a breach in their original contractual agreement with the town. According to the town attorney, the LAP lost its charitable status because they did not file paperwork in time with the IRS and the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau office.

“When this came to my attention I scheduled a meeting with Ms. Larkin,” Mangano said. “She told us she knew but she failed to advise us of this fact. So I cannot in counsel to this board advise the board to enter into a new agreement with an organization that as we speak has violated its agreement with the town and is in violation of federal and state laws.”

Residents flocked to the podium to defend the shelter and its contribution to the Huntington community.

“I’m here today to appeal to the town’s decision,” Sharlene Turner, who has adopted many cats from the shelter, said. “Please give the league a renewed opportunity to prove itself.”

Turner suggested setting up strict guidelines and rules moving forward. She commended the dedication of the volunteer staff for providing a safe and warm environment for the animals.

“All volunteers know each cat by name,” she said. “They know their personalities and the relationship a cat has with every other friend in the shelter.

Donna Fitzhugh has been a volunteer at the shelter since 1989.

“I have volunteered over 3,000 hours,” she said. “As you can tell I love working with LAP and volunteering my time and energy to this very worthy organization that has been serving this community for over 43 years. Yes we screwed up, something happened, and we want to rectify this — we do not want to leave. We want to stay and serve the residents of the Town of Huntington.”

Haley Shore, an 11-year-old who donned cat ears at the meeting, said she’s been volunteering at the shelter for about seven years.

“When I heard the news Huntington was going to possibly close the shelter, I was devastated,” she said. “The shelter has become my second home. But this is not about me, it’s about the shelter and all the innocent cats. What are they supposed to do without all of their dedicated and loyal volunteers? For some of these cats this has been the only home they’ve ever known. The cats can’t talk, so we have to be their voices.”

Haley also brought a petition signed by many friends and neighbors.

Several of the volunteers asked the board what would happen to the cats if the shelter closed its doors. According to the town, two other shelters have offered to take over including The Little Shelter in Elwood. However volunteers argued they don’t offer the same amount of health services for animals as the Grateful Paw staff does.

“Yes we screwed up, something happened, and we want to rectify this — we do not want to leave.”
—Donna Fitzhugh

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) assured the audience that all of the cats living at the shelter now would continue to be cared for, and the shelter would continue with its no-kill policy. However despite the pleas of many residents, he said he had great concerns moving forward with LAP.

“Animals will not be harmed,” Petrone said at the meeting. “I’m a cat lover, but five years without a filing, and it was known and the town was not told. I personally don’t have confidence in the league anymore to go forward when they knew the situation existed.”

Petrone said it’s not as easy as the shelter just refiling for not-for-profit status.

“These laws were broken,” he said. “So you’re telling us just go forward and let’s make it nice. Well it’s not that simple.”

No further decision was reached by the board at the meeting.

Aging isn’t for sissies. We’ve all heard that line before and it also applies to our pets, our cats and dogs, our horses and so forth. Teddy is our only pet, a golden retriever with a square head, a pug nose, expressive brown eyes and an affable disposition. He has lived with us since he was 8 weeks, and in June he will turn 12.

It’s hard for us to see him getting old. He is totally deaf now and only knows we are there when we touch him. Then he will be startled as he whips his head around to see us and slowly wags his tail as if to say, “Oh, I know you, I’m safe with you.” He has serious cataracts that interfere with his vision, and he is beginning to bump into the corners of furniture. He’s gone white around his muzzle, although the changeover from light blond isn’t so dramatic. And while he still can find his way back to the front door after he’s gone out, he occasionally wanders aimlessly inside the house. Sometimes he just sits and stares at a wall. Yet most of the time, he is his usual self, putting his head in each of our laps in turn as we sit in the living room and nuzzling us with love.

Worst of all, for no reason we can discern, he will begin a chorus of howling. It’s a curious chain of sounds, starting at a high pitch and dropping down until it is wolverine, coming from deep in his throat. He throws his head back when he howls, much like the wolves I saw in the Oregon Zoo in Portland. Maybe it’s the equivalent of a primordial scream, or maybe he is communing with his ancestors, telling them he is on his way. It brings us to tears.

My sons tell me we should have cataract surgery for him on one eye to enable him at least to see better.

“You’d be howling, too, if you couldn’t see or hear,” they argue. Of course they have a point. But I am afraid, afraid of what Teddy’s reaction to the anesthetic might be, afraid to send him to a place of unfamiliarity, afraid to subject him to invasive procedure.

To further complicate the picture, he has had a seizure. We saw the whole thing. It happened only 10 minutes after the last of our dinner company had left a few weeks ago. He was laying down on his side in his familiar station near the front door when suddenly his legs started flailing at the air, he began panting and saliva started to bubble from his mouth. All we could do was look on in horror for the short time that it lasted. When it was over he became uncharacteristically aggressive for a couple of minutes. Then his breathing slowly returned to normal, and he started walking from room to room. After perhaps 15 more minutes, while we watched with concern, he sauntered over to his food bowl as if nothing had happened and began eating all his dinner, finishing up with a noisy slug of water. Finally he spun around, plopped down and looked at us as if to say, “Why are you following me?”

We called the vet, who seemed much more sanguine than we were and assured us that this sometimes happens to pets, although it had not happened to any of our preceding three dogs. She put him on meds to prevent another seizure.

What followed was a trial-and-error course of medication that alternately left Teddy so wobbly that he could barely step off the porch and caused him to sleep constantly, or wound him up so that he howled intermittently through the night, needing reassurance each time that we were there. It was like having a newborn baby in the house demanding multiple feedings.

We’ve finally gotten the right medicines to the right level and life is almost back to normal, but the questions remain: What to do next, and when to do it?

Nunu wants a home outside the town animal shelter. Photo from Brookhaven Town

The town animal shelter is now open every day as part of an effort to get more dogs and cats adopted.

Supervisor Ed Romaine said the expanded hours would make it more convenient for people to visit the shelter in Brookhaven hamlet, which is located on Horseblock Road.

The Brookhaven Town Animal Shelter and Adoption Center is now open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-451-6950 or visit www.brookhaven.org/animalshelter.

Melissa Buchanan mugshot from SCPD

A woman was charged with animal cruelty after police found a dog dead and several other animals that had not been cared for in her home.

Officers responded to an apartment on Beverly Road in South Huntington on Thursday night after a landlord reported hearing a dog excessively barking and “realizing she had not seen her tenant for a few days,” the Suffolk County Police Department said in a statement. The responders found two miniature Australian shepherd dogs, one of them dead, as well as two lizards and a cat — all of which had not been cared for, police said.

The tenant, 27-year-old Melissa Buchanan, returned while police were at the scene and “admitted to police she had not been home for several days.”

She was charged with six counts of animal cruelty for allegedly abandoning the animals.

Attorney information for Buchanan was not immediately available Friday morning.

Huntington Town’s animal control department took possession of the surviving dog and cat, while the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which worked with the police to bring charges against Buchanan, made arrangements for the lizards.

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The Comsewogue Public Library held its second Pet Adoption Fair on April 23, showcasing several animals from local shelters who are looking for adoptive homes.

Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center, Brookhaven Animal Shelter, Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, Live Love Bark, the Long Island Parrot Society and other animal organizations brought some of their furry friends to the fair.

There were dogs of different ages and breeds greeting people inside the library, bringing light to a rainy day.

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A rabbit is held during a previous year’s blessing of the animals service at the Setauket Presbyterian Church, where the third annual event is slated for Christmas Eve. Photo from Mary Speers

The Setauket Presbyterian Church will hold its third annual family-friendly Christmas Eve manger service, with carols and blessing of animals, at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 24.

On the first Christmas Eve, it was the animals that made room in their stable for Mary and Joseph, the church said, in explanation of the manger service. According to the old carol, it was the donkey that carried a very pregnant Mary all the way to Bethlehem. It was the cow who gave the baby her manger, full of hay, for his bed; the sheep who gave wool to keep him warm; the doves who sang him to sleep. The world wasn’t that different then from the way it is now. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, as the day gives way to night, this will be a time to gather and give thanks for the hospitality of the friendly beasts, the first to welcome the unknown baby to the world, and for the friendly beasts who warm our homes and our hearts today. In our uncertain world, they teach us everything we need to know about steadfast hope, unflagging patience and unconditional love.

Children from the Setauket Presbyterian Children’s Choir will sing “The Friendly Beasts,” in costume. Children of all ages, as well as animals of (almost) all sizes, are invited to come with their adult humans to the Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave. on the Village Green in Setauket, Thursday, Dec. 24, at 4:30 p.m.

Harborfields students Kaylee Perkowski, Alissa Barber, Allison Walkley, Ariella Walker and Emma Riley pose with donations they collected for local animal shelters. Photo from Daniel Barrett

Students at Harborfields High School believe ’tis the season to show your furry friends some extra love.

Pascal is a Pointer mix that the students of Harborfields are sponsoring. Photo from Little Shelter
Pascal is a Pointer mix that the students of Harborfields are sponsoring. Photo from Little Shelter

Members of the Global Justice Club and the Forensics Club are working together to raise money and collect donations for Little Shelter, Huntington Animal Shelter and Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, as well as spread the word on why adopting is better than shopping for a new pet.

Students collected pet supplies including food, treats, toys, litter, blankets and more. They have also raised about $200 by selling “opt to adopt” bracelets and pens, and plan to use the money to sponsor animals at the shelters, including Pascal from Little Shelter, a 12-year-old Pointer mix who needs a home.

“There are so many pets bought this time of year for the holidays, and while it’s true that a dog or cat make a great gift and provide so much joy to a family, there are lots of homeless pets waiting in our local shelters that would love to become part of a forever home,” Daniel Barrett, advisor of the Forensics Club, said in an email.

Pascal is a Pointer mix that the students of Harborfields are sponsoring. Photo from Little Shelter
Pascal is a Pointer mix that the students of Harborfields are sponsoring. Photo from Little Shelter

Students Allison Walkley and Ariella Walker said it’s necessary for kids within the community to educate themselves about the importance of supporting their local shelters.

“Animals play a huge part in so many of our lives,” the girls said in a shared email statement on Monday morning. “They’re our companions and our family, but some animals out there don’t have a loving home. They’ve been thrown out on streets or they’ve been abused and neglected. The shelters are the orphanages for these animals, but so many don’t have enough funding or supplies to take in all the helpless dogs and cats.”

The Harborfields students will be collecting donations until Saturday, Dec. 19, when they will bring all the donations and money collected to the shelters.

Little Shelter is a no-kill, nonprofit animal shelter located on Warner Road in Huntington. It was established in 1927.

According to its website, it is Long Island’s oldest humane organization.

Huntington Animal Shelter and Grateful Paw Cat Shelter share a location on Deposit Road in East Northport, and both work with the Town of Huntington and the League for Animal Protection, Inc. LAP is a nonprofit organization established in 1973. Grateful Paw focuses on cat and kitten adoptions and has a spaying/neutering program.

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A PRAAT dog serves as a reading assistant at a local library. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden

By Lisa Steuer

It is quite obvious that people love their pets. In fact, 62 percent of U.S. households contain a pet, and about $45 billion is spent on pets annually, according to Pamela Linden LMSW, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor in the Occupational Therapy program at Stony Brook University.

But what many people may not realize is that these animals could be positively impacting the pet owner’s health, and that emerging research shows that therapy and comfort animals could have a place in therapeutic and trauma settings. Currently, a lot of the research on the health benefits of pet ownership has to do with the bond between the animal and its owner, Linden said.

“There’s a book by Meg Daley Olmert called ‘Made for Each Other’ and the whole book is about oxytocin — and that’s why we bond with others, including other mammals, like dogs,” said Linden. “A lot of it has to do with the gazing and the staring, so studies have been done, especially one interesting study that measured oxytocin levels in both the human and the dog after gazing— oxytocin levels raised for both of them,” resulting in good feelings not only for human, but for the dog, too.

Pella, of PRAAT, visits the children cancer ward at Stony Brook Hospital. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden
Pella, of PRAAT, visits the children cancer ward at Stony Brook Hospital. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden

Linden’s hope is that more people will be motivated to understand the role of pets in our lives. She developed the first social work internship with Patchogue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy, a not-for-profit organization in Patchogue that screens, trains and supports human-dog teams that visit individuals in schools, hospitals and hospice facilities. Linden hopes to work with PRAAT to research the effect that comfort animals have on people who are already sick.

In addition, Linden is the faculty advisor for Stony Brook University’s first Animal Assisted Activity student club anticipated to begin in spring 2016. So far, more than 150 students have signed up for the club, which has goals to help provide education about animal -assisted therapy while partnering students with organizations like PRAAT and local shelters to help prepare dogs to become adoption-ready.

Linden pointed out that people often get confused between service animals, therapy dogs and comfort animals. Service dogs are protected by law, are allowed anywhere animals typically aren’t allowed and have been trained to perform special functions, like open doors, push buttons and retrieve objects for people with visual impairments, for instance. A comfort dog has been trained to visit hospitals, nursing homes and similar places to provide comfort to patients, and a therapy dog is an animal used by a licensed health professional to achieve a therapeutic outcome.

“I’ll give you an example [of a therapy dog],” said Linden. “As a social worker, I’m working with someone who is grieving. And they’re either too numb or too emotional to process the grief. I might bring in a dog with a therapeutic goal of bridging between the client and the therapist by doing those behaviors that we do— you can snuggle up to a dog, pet it, stare into the eyes and have your oxytocin kick in and relax.”

Physical, Psychological and Emotional Benefits

Although the research is limited, studies have demonstrated the healthy benefits of pet ownership and companionship. Linden shared the physical, psychological, and emotional benefits:

Hans, of PRAAT, provides comfort to students during college exams. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden
Hans, of PRAAT, provides comfort to students during college exams. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden

• Physical: Pet owners have fewer minor health complaints and have greater levels of exercises and physical fitness. Studies have found that pet owners had reductions in some common risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as lower systolic blood pressures, plasma cholesterol and triglyceride values.

“People experience a decrease of blood pressure talking to pets. Blood pressure decreases for people with normal pressures and those with hypertension when watching fish in a standard aquarium,” said Linden.

• Psychological: Studies have found that pet owners enjoy better well-being than non-owners, and that pet owners have greater self-esteem and tend to be less lonely.

“People find comfort in talking to their animals. People walking with their dog experience more social contact and longer conversations than when walking alone — pets stimulate conversations between people,” Linden said. “Companion animals can help people to laugh and maintain a sense of humor.”

She added that Children with ADHD and defiant disorders exhibit significantly less antisocial and violent behavior than a matched group that did not involve animals.

• Emotional: Companion animals have been shown to alleviate anxiety. Stony Brook brings dogs in during exam time to help relax the undergraduate students.

“Any discussion regarding pets should include the notion of responsible pet ownership — ensuring that their physical, medical and emotional needs are met. This requires adequate financial resources and time to devote to caring for the pet,” added Linden.

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