Pets and Depression. By Kazmin Nye, Lab Tech.

The call was a complete surprise. The day after Christmas, my Grandmother died of a heart attack. Soft crying ensued and quickly turned into racking sobs. Just five minutes into my emotional frenzy, my dog Indiana appeared at my side. He preceded to jump up beside me on the chair and began to cuddle me and lick my face. I was amazed at the comfort he was giving me; he knew that I was hurting and he was doing what he could to help me.

Frequently I hear stories of four-legged creatures becoming saving angels in time of grief, and depression. Research shows that pet owners have significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate both before and while performing stressful mental tasks. Finally, persons recovering from heart attacks recover more quickly and survive longer when there is a pet at home. It seems as though just their mere presence is beneficial. In a Johns Hopkins Depression and Anxiety bulletin, Karen Swartz, M.D., mentions a recent study where nursing home residents in St. Louis felt less lonely with some quiet time with a dog alone than a visit with both a dog and other residents.

Here is a typical scenario: It’s been a tough day at work, the Giants are losing, and I’m dangerously close to taking it all out on someone. Before I can do that, I hear the familiar jingle of the collar, and Indiana is right in front of me. I kneel down, he licks my face and I smile. My mood is immediately changed. We calm down when we are with our dogs, cats, lizards and pigs. Pets are like a good movie; they can take us out of our heads into a simpler reality – one that involves food, water, and affection.

The healing power of touch is undisputed. According to a University of Virginia study, holding hands can reduce the stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, part of our emotional center. The touch can actually stop certain regions of the brain, from responding to threat. It’s not a surprising then that stroking a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and heart rate and boost levels of serotonin and dopamine.

The warm spring breeze blew on his sweet, graying face as he chased a squirrel along the fence. I have often wondered what he was thinking, or what makes him happy. These twelve years have gone by fast, as we are now facing life without him. I will never forget his undying devotion, his unconditional love, and the way he made me feel.