Reprinted from the Winter 2016 PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.
Many of us already know the immediate joys of dog or cat ownership – how much fun, affection, and meaning they can bring into our lives. According to HelpGuide.org International, a nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization of “digital mental health pioneers,” pets also provide numerous benefits for your health and well-being, and even your longevity. Quoting from their website (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/the-health-benefits-of-pets.htm):
“Dogs in particular can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health.”
Studies have found that dogs improve our mood and health:
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than adults without pets.
- People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets
- Playing with a dog or cat can elevate your levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Pets can help lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease).
- According to the American Heart Association, heart attack patients who have dogs survive longer than those without.
- Pet caretakers over the age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
Once you reach full retirement, you may find yourself with a lot more “freedom” and time “at-home” to share with your spouse, other loved ones (babysitting grandchildren/ nieces?), friends, personal music-making, hobbies, and pets! Indeed, this may be the first chance you have to go out and rescue a dog from an animal shelter. Full-time music teachers with those incredibly packed schedules of after-school/evening marching band practices, choir, band, orchestra, jazz, musical, and/or dance rehearsals and performances, their own concert gigs, private lessons, etc. may not be able to properly care for a dog by themselves. The only reservation to bringing a new dog into your home is if you plan to take a lot of long trips in retirement. Perhaps then, you can revisit the option of animal adoption after taking several cruises, safaris, and cross-country road trips. Pets need your love and attention!
Having a dog or cat as a retiree will support many healthy lifestyle changes, such as (from HelpGuide.org):
- Increasing exercise
- Providing companionship
- Staying connected and meeting new people
- Reducing anxiety
- Adding structure and routine to your day
- Providing sensory stress relief
- Helping you find meaning and joy in life
- Boosting vitality
You need to read the entire HelpGuide.org blog-post and Harvard Health Publications for more information about dog ownership and issues dealing with heart-health, weight-loss, boosting your immune system, bipolar disorder, PTSD, Alzheimer’s patients, and children with learning disorders. They provide additional tips on choosing a pet, and the costs and commitment associated with them. Other excellent online resources include:
- Humane Society of Canada: https://www.humanesociety.com/images/pdfs/silverpawshealthreport.pdf#sthash.mgy17Fnv.dpuf
- Live Science: http://www.livescience.com/35463-seven-surprising-health-benefits-dog-ownership-110209.html
- USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/09/02/owning-pets-in-retirement/14436947/
- The Seattle Times: http://www.seattletimes.com/health/pets-can-reduce-stress-cholesterol-obesity/
- The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/14/business/retirementspecial/retirees-love-their-pets.html?_r=0
Several of my own experiences “learning and growing” with Brewster (a yorkie-poo) and Gracie (a bichon frise), “new children” added to my household immediately after retirement, are shared at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/what-i-have-learned-from-my-dogs-in-retirement/. Here are a few of the intangibles… “rules for healthy living” our pets model and we realize by having them:
- Life is all about taking a long walk, smelling the roses (and everything else), bamboozling another treat from “daddy,” and getting your ears scratched or belly rubbed.
- Live enthusiastically in the “here and now.”
- Forgive unequivocally and immediately, and always run to greet loved ones when they come home.
- Whenever possible, fearlessly explore the fringe (almost beyond the reach of the leash).
- Relax and snuggle with someone you love as often as possible.
So for what are you waiting? Go out and find a dog or cat to rescue… or at least pet one! You’ll be glad you did!
© 2015, 2016 and 2017 Paul K. Fox