New study focuses on human-animal bond by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and human animal bond
Archaeologist finds 12,000 year old remains of a woman with her hand resting on remains of a puppy. (Photo by Naftali Hilger/Hebrew University via Getty Images)

The oldest evidence of the human/animal bond is found with a 12,000-year-old human skeleton in Israel with its hand resting on the skeleton of a 6-month-old wolf pup. Curiously, our long relationship with companion animals has only recently given rise to a field of study called anthrozoology – the study of human-animal interactions.

When you consider how long we’ve had pets in our lives, and how important they are to us it’s amazing the study of human-animal interactions is so new. Researchers have only just begun to explore this wonderful relationship.

Jeffrey Masson, author of “The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving (How Dogs Have Captured Our Hearts for Thousands of Years),” opines that the human capacity for love, sympathy, empathy and compassion may actually have developed as a result of our long association with dogs.

Dr. Ann Berger, a researcher at the National Institute of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., says “The bond animals and humans have is part of our evolution, and it’s very powerful.”

Dr. James Griffin, a scientist at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says, “There are health benefits to owning pets, both in terms of psychological growth and development, as well as physical health benefits.”

A NIH research study found that when children are asked who they talk to when they are upset, the most common answer is their pet – demonstrating the importance of pets as a source of comfort and developing empathy. Therapists and researchers also report that children with autism are sometimes better able to interact with pets, and this may help in their interactions with people.

Many studies suggest pets can help improve our cardiovascular health. One NIH study involving 421 adults who had suffered heart attacks found that dog owners were significantly more likely to be alive a year later than were those who did not own dogs, regardless of the severity of the heart attack.

Another study looked at 240 married couples. Those who owned a pet were found to have lower heart rates and blood pressure, whether at rest or when undergoing stressful tests, than those without pets. Pet owners also seemed to have milder responses and quicker recovery from stress when they were with their pets than with a spouse or friend.

One NIH investigation looked at more than 2,000 adults and found dog owners who regularly walked their dogs were more physically active and less likely to be obese than those who didn’t own or walk a dog. Another NIH study followed more than 2,500 older adults, ages 71-82, for 3 years. Those who regularly walked their dogs walked faster and longer each week than others who didn’t walk regularly. Older dog walkers also had greater mobility inside their homes than others in the study.

Man’s best friend may help you make more human friends too. Several studies have shown that walking with a dog leads to more conversations and helps you stay socially connected. Other studies have shown that people who have more social relationships tend to live longer and are less likely to show mental and physical declines as they grow older.

Several research teams are examining the benefits of bringing specially trained animals into clinical settings. Animal-assisted therapies are increasingly offered in hospitals and nursing homes nationwide and clinicians who watch patients interact with animals say they clearly see the benefits, including improved mood and reduced anxiety.

Your local animal shelter has the largest selection of mood enhancing, anxiety mitigating companion animals in your community.  Isn’t it time you took advantage of the many health benefits that comes with adopting a pet?

Putting cats to work helps them and us By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and feral catsIn a perfect world, all cats would have a loving home, they would be spayed or neutered and they would be kept indoors. Stray cat problems arise because unaltered pet cats are permitted to roam freely outdoors and they either become feral (wild) over time and/or they produce feral offspring.

The only time a cat should ever be allowed outdoors is when it is too feral to keep indoors and then only if it is spayed or neutered so it doesn’t contribute to feral cat overpopulation. However, the responsibility for making sure feral cats are spayed or neutered often unfairly falls to a compassionate person who voluntarily steps up to feed them.

Truth be known, these caregivers and their feral cats deserve our respect and our support; they provide an important service to our developing communities. They help alleviate pressure on our overcrowded shelters; they help keep rodents in check without the use of pest control chemicals that are toxic to the environment and dangerous to pets, wildlife and children; and they help reduce rodent related public health risks, such as the plague, the fatal Leptospirosis, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Murine Typhus, Rat Bite Fever, Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, and Eosinophilic Meningitis.

Feral cats have taken the place of the diminishing wild animal populations in preventing an overpopulation of rodents. This is why more and more U.S. communities are joining Denmark, England, Israel and other countries in relying on feral cats to serve as a “green” (environmentally friendly) rat abatement program.

The reason feral cats are so effective is because rodents flee neighborhoods where these cats make their presence known. They actually give off an odor through their paws as they prowl about and once rodents get a whiff of feline, they quickly vacate the premises.

Less grisly than glue traps — and much more effective – feral cats go about their “work” naturally. They prowl, they eat and they sit in the sun; although they prefer to spend much of their time hiding from view.

And the oft heard complaint that feral cats are a public nuisance can be humanely remedied through a formalized feral cat program – because, contrary to conventional wisdom, you can herd cats. Feral cats tend to follow the food bowl. Unobtrusive feeding stations established in out of the way locations ensure feral cat nuisance complaints are greatly reduced if not eliminated altogether.

I encourage municipalities to support feral cat caregivers through a program called Operation FELIX (Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination). Through Operation FELIX, feral cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, micro-chipped and ear-tipped (under anesthesia while the cats are being altered, veterinarians notch an ear tip, the widely recognized sign that a feral cat is altered).

To truly be effective, local municipalities should allocate funding to support Operation FELIX in their respective jurisdictions, as they are typically the recipients of feral cat complaints. Until that happens, YHS depends on donations and grants to help support our community’s volunteer feral cat care givers as they voluntarily provide this valuable community service.

If you want to help support this innovative, non-lethal feral cat program please make a donation to your local shelter and specify “FELIX” on your check.

For more information on Operation FELIX or how to solve feral cat problems in your neighborhood contact me.

If you have a rodent problem in your home or place of business, consider adopting a Working Cat as a humane solution.

In the cold weather, be sure to tap the hood of your car before starting it. Cats often look for warmth under the hood and this simple practice could save a life.