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Companion Animals — A Win-Win Partnership






Caring for Cats & Dogs

Captive Companions

Preventing Overpopulation

Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinic

Pounds & Shelters


Allergies to Cats or Dogs

When a Cat or Dog Dies

Memorials, Tributes, & Honors


Since humans domesticated dogs about 10,000 years ago, and cats about 8,000 years ago, the bond between humans and animals has been growing, with powerful benefits for both. A well-cared-for animal can live more than a decade longer than an animal who must fend for himself or herself. Studies have shown that living with animals as companions provides us with a wide variety of physical and emotional benefits.


Medical Benefits to Humans

Companion animals lower our blood pressure, triglyceride, cholesterol, and stress levels. People with animal companions have fewer minor health problems, shorter hospital stays, lower medical costs, better psychological well being, and higher one-year survival rates following coronary heart disease. Coronary patients with companion animals are four times less likely to die within the first year after surgery than patients without them.


Psychological and Emotional Benefits

Animals are a source of pleasure, play, laughter, and conversation. They satisfy our need to touch and be touched, and they provide nonjudgmental warmth and affection. People who have dogs as companions walk twice as long and say their dogs open up opportunities for social interaction. Women who live alone but with a companion animal reported feeling significantly less lonely than those without a companion animal. Terminally ill patients emphasize the importance of their companion animals in helping them cope with their illness, providing company, affection, and a reason to continue living. Companion animals also help the elderly cope with the sense of isolation and the changes and transitions that occur in later years.





Benefits to Children

Empathy, a key component of "emotional intelligence," has been shown to be more important than IQ in determining a child's future success and happiness in life. Children in whom love and respect for animals has been instilled have a greater sense of empathy than children who grow up without animals in the home.


For children going through a difficult transition such as a divorce, a move, or the terminal illness and death of a parent, companion animals offer an anchor of unconditional love, comfort, and emotional support. Children find it easier to confide in animals than in people, and caring for animals gives children a sense of competence, the security of a routine, and the feeling of being needed at an otherwise chaotic time.


Child psychologists point to the value of animals in helping abused children open up and articulate their problems. When trust in adults has been broken, children can sometimes feel safer opening up to an animal than to a person. Dr. Barbara Boat, a speaker at CHAI's conference on the connection between violence toward people and toward animals, presented the case of a five- or six-year-old girl who had been severely abused, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The abuse included holding a knife in the child's hand and forcing her hand to stab animals. The girl cared for animals and was deeply traumatized over the suffering caused to them at her hand, but through the will of another. She was only able to verbalize what was done to her by drawing a horse and describing the abuse as if it had happened to the horse. Intentionally placed in a home with a dog, the child was initially terrified she would hurt the animal and did not want to be near him. The trust the dog showed her helped her rebuild her own shattered trust in herself. For that child, the dog was her gateway back to normalcy.


Psychologist James J. Lynch, PhD, says, "We don't have pets in our lives to be nice. We have pets because we need them."





Animal Angels

Stories abound of animals alerting people to danger and even risking their own lives to save others. Jack is one of those brave animals. A member of New York City Engine Company 105, Jack sat in his customary place next to the driver of the fire truck, as it sped through the city, sirens wailing. Suddenly, the driver noticed a three-year-old boy standing in the middle of the street, too terrified to move. He slammed on the brakes and with a great screaming sound, the huge truck began to slow. It had too much momentum to stop quickly enough to avoid hitting the boy, however, and in helpless horror, the driver watched as his truck plowed forward toward the boy. Within seconds, he would be crushed. Instantly, Jack assessed the situation, jumped out of the still-moving vehicle, raced in front of it, and leapt into the path of the huge, onrushing fire truck, knocking the child clear. Boy and dog rolled to the side by the curb as the truck swept passed, finally coming to a full stop. Jack and the boy both missed being crushed by inches. The New York Humane Society awarded Jack the Medal of Valor.


Our Responsibility to Animals

Without a doubt, companion animals improve our quality of life in many ways and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. We can start to repay that debt by taking responsibility for their present plight and doing our part to bring about positive change. Humans domesticated animals thousands of years ago, allowed them to breed, and then abandoned them. The consequence of our mistake is tremendous suffering. See Preventing Overpopulation to find out what you can do to help.


As a responsible animal guardian, you want to take the best care of the animals you share your life with. In this section, you will find information on which animals make suitable companion animals and which are better left in the wild, how to take proper care of your companion animal, why it is important to alter them, and the symptoms and treatments for typical illnesses. You will also find information on the potential dangers to them, including products and plants, for example, plus where to report animal abuse, what to do if your animal is lost, how to prepare for a disaster, and how to assess whether your local animal shelter is doing the best for the animals. The more you know, the better the care you can provide for your animals, and the longer and happier the time you will have together.


Please note that we refer to humans as "guardians" of animals, not "owners," to indicate that animals are not property.