by Allison Aboud Holzer

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Do you remember the scene in Cast Away when Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks) cried “Wilson! WILSON! I’m sorry Wilson, I’m so sorry…”? I sobbed while watching him let his best friend drift away in the ocean in order to survive. And then I left the theatre baffled at myself for crying over a pet volleyball!

But, as any pet boutique owner will tell you, owners take their pets quite seriously – often considering them members of the family! It’s not so much a question of whether pets make us happy, rather how:

1.Pets make us more social – they are a form of social support themselves, but they also provide us with opportunities to socialize with other pet owners.

2. Pets improve our health – people who have pets exercise more often, have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and see the doctor less often.

3. Pets soothe us – an interesting experimental study showed that women given a stressful mental exercise were soothed more by a pet than the presence of a friend. Pets provide stress relief through physical contact and unconditional positive regard.

4. Pets promote empathy – children with strong bonds to pets have higher scores on empathy than children without pets. And pets foster nurturing from the adults who take care of them.

If you already have pets, savor the ways that they bring happiness into your life. And for thowilsonse of you who don’t have pets – perhaps this is the year for a new companion!

Allergic? Scared of dogs? As Chuck Noland helped us understand, we can make strong emotional bonds with pets of many kinds besides the standard cats and dogs, including plants, lizards, birds, snakes, rodents, virtual pets (WebKinz ring a bell?) and even the occasional inanimate object, like Wilson.

·Allen, k.M., Blascovich, J., Tomaka, J., & Kelsey, R.M. (1991). Presence of human friends and pet dogs as moderators of autonomic responses to stress in women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 582 –580.

·Anderson, W.P., Reid, C.M., & Jennings, G.L. (1992). Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Medical Journal of Australia, 157, 298 – 301.

·Ascione, F.R. (1992). Enhancing Children’s Attitudes About The Humane Treatment of Animals: Generalization to Human-Directed Empathy. Anthrozoos, 5 (3).

·Sable, Pat (1995). Pets, Attachment, and Well-being across the Life Cycle. Social Work, 40 (3), 334-41.

·Siegel, J.M. (1990). Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: the moderating role of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 1081 – 1086.

·Stallones, L., Marx, M.B., Garrity, T.F., & Johnson, T.P. (1990). Pet ownership and attachment in relation to the health of U.S. adults, 21 to 64 years of age. Anthrozoos, 4, 100 – 112.

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