Pets for Your Health: Peace and Calm

 

Pets are good for your well-being. For example, multiple studies have shown that pets reduce stress and depression.

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When we are stressed, our bodies produce more harmful hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine. These lower our immunity, making us more susceptible to illness and disease. By reducing stress and depression, pets thus bolster our immune systems, keeping us healthier.

Stress also raises our blood pressure. Again, studies show that pets lower blood pressure readings. In one study, people in stressful situations who also had pets had better blood pressure readings than people without pets.

Interactions with our pets also increase “good” hormones like serotonin and dopamine that have calming effects and are associated with happiness.

Remember the adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor a way”? While no one would argue the benefits of fiber, the doctor should add pets to the prescription.

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Animals In Art: From Classics to Your Own Creations

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Paleolithic art in Lascaux, France

Since the Stone Age, animals have inspired artists the world over. Their likeness has been engraved upon pottery, weaved into tapestries, molded and shaped in clay and rock, and painted on walls and canvas, bringing beauty and grace into our living space.

Artists depict these muses in all aspects of our lives, both religious and secular. Sometimes, their portrayal is realistic, other times fantastical, expressions of the imagination. Yet, while the purpose and definition of art perpetually changes over time, art – at its core – is a reflection of our relationship with our environment. “All art is but imitation of nature,” to quote the Roman statesman, Lucius Annaeus Seneca. That seems particularly true when conveying the importance of animals in our lives.

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Egyptian depiction of cat catching birds, circa 1350 B.C.

What drives artists in their creative pursuits, employing animals as their models? For those of us in awe of those who can wield a brush or mold clay to their whims, it’s interesting to hear artists share their perspective on subject and media choices.

Terence K. Stephens , a well-established artist and owner of the recently opened Art 270 Gallery and Art Space in Salt Lake City, believes animals ground people. “I love any aspect of animals, and I want people to love animals as much as I do. Plus, they’re easy to live with when on the wall or sitting on the coffee table.”

His work includes painting, sculpture, and mixed media (such as “Big Boy” featured on the cover). The owner of a rescued Pit mix, dogs are his biggest focus when working with animals, but he’s also committed to “anything that’s endangered.”

Of course, on the flip side of creation, the other end goal of artists is to sell their work (or, we’d never see it!). Fortunately for them, many of us are ready to oblige.

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Frederick Morgan, Feeding the Rabbits, circa 1904

From fine art to folk art, the styles and subject matter are endless, accommodating all tastes. There is no right or wrong. While many of us may be unable to articulate why a piece appeals, we know what we like when we see it.

Where to start?  If you want art on your walls, the ever-popular classics (and modern pieces) are readily available as inexpensive posters. You can recreate the Louvre in your living room.

Original pieces too can be found for reasonable prices. Artists display their wares at art festivals, farmers markets, restaurants, stores, and online, looking for venues to showcase their art to those who might hesitate to walk into an art gallery.

Want to commission art work, like a painting of your pet? Etsy.com is the go-to site for buying custom pet portraits, generally starting around $75 and up, depending on the size of the painting and number of animals.

Local Utah artist, Allison Nash Hutto, creates such commissioned pieces, painting from submitted photos. “People love their pets as if they are their children, and I love knowing how much the painting means to them,” Hutto says. “I like to portray a bright and lively feel in my pet portraits, and have found that animals give me a chance to be relaxed and use colors more freely.”

So far, Hutto’s requests have been for cats and dogs, but she “would love to paint less common pets like … a lizard. I am up for anything that you name and feed!”

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Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Monkey Painter, 1833

Of course, art isn’t strictly the realm of those who called themselves artists.  You can paint your own too.  I have, and – on my own – I barely manage recognizable stick figures. Yet, under the guidance of professionals at Painting with a Twist in Murray, I painted four treasured portraits of my cat and dogs. I won’t be selling art anytime soon, but my own created art of my furry beloveds is priceless.

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Author’s portrait of her Beagle, Buzz, with assistance from Painting With A Twist

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picm_aug2015First published in Pets in the City Magazine, August 2015

When Dogs Fly

 

dsc07145Picture this. A dog eagerly jumps up into a truck bed, excited to go on an outing.  As the truck cruises down the road, the dog is the quintessential image of canine joy: ears flapping in the wind and tongue lolling to the side…

…Until the truck slams on its breaks to avoid a collision, swerves to miss an obstacle in the road, slams into another vehicle, or the dog simply leaps from the truck, lured by a distraction. Thrown from the truck, she dies from impact or from being struck by traffic.

What if she was tethered? The collar became a noose. If the lead was long enough for the dog to reach the ground, she was then dragged on the road or run over by her owner.

Only Takes Once

Many years may have gone by without mishap. However, it only takes once for the idyllic scene to be shattered, with the consequences far outweighing the thrill of the ride.

A Lucky Dog

According to the American Humane Association, 100,000 dogs are killed each year in accidents as a result of riding in truck beds.

That 100,000 doesn’t include injuries. If the dog is “lucky” enough to survive, possible injuries include broken bones and spines; joint injuries requiring amputations; head, abdominal, and thoracic trauma; road rash so severe that skin is stripped away; internal injuries to organs; and, serious cuts and bruising.

A Deadly Chain Reaction

Then it’s a matter of whether the owner has deep enough pockets to cover the ensuing surgeries and medical treatment, with the price tag for veterinary care running into thousands of dollars, depending on the severity and length of treatment. Even then, the dog may not recover to full health.

The issue extends beyond the dog’s welfare too. A dog flying from a truck or running loose on the road is a public safety concern. If the dog lands on another driver’s windshield, the passengers in that vehicle might be killed or maimed. Cars swerving or striking the dog can cause a chain reaction, resulting in death, injury and property damage to others – all because “the dog liked going for rides” or “there wasn’t room in the cab.”

Some states ban the travel of unsecured dogs in truck beds. Not Utah[1], of course. For example, in Washington, the law states “It shall be unlawful for any person to transport any living animal on the running board, fenders, hood, or other outside part of any vehicle unless suitable harness, cage or enclosure be provided and so attached as to protect such animal from falling or being thrown therefrom.”

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Have You Driven a Ford Lately?

The Ford Motor Company is weighing in on the issue, encouraging drivers of its trucks to keep all passengers safe. The recommendations include:

  • Have animals ride inside the cab, preferably in the back seat (if available) where the odds of being injured or a distraction are less
  • When possible, crate the dog or use a dog harness and seatbelt to secure her
  • Never leave a dog unattended in a vehicle

Doug Scott, truck marketing manager with Ford, says, “We’re not asking people to go to onerous lengths while driving with pets.”

If the dog MUST be in the back, no harness is considered adequately safe. Crates are an option in warm weather, if securely tied down.

Painting a Prettier Picture

Of course, riding upfront is still a joyous event for a dog.

Picture this instead: A dog eagerly jumps into a truck cab, happy to be close to her loved one and on another adventure, heading for a destination where she will safely arrive.

Picture perfect, if you ask me.

 [1] Utah is one of the few states that fails to restrict humans from riding in truck beds too. However, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety: “It’s much better if people ride inside the cab of the truck and use safety belts.”

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picm_march2014First published in Pets in the City Magazine, March 2014

Helping Our Heros: Can Dogs Aid Returned Veterans?

Service dogs have long been recognized for their ability to assist their human companions. Since the 18th century, guide dogs have helped the vision impaired. In the 1970s, their training expanded to mitigate the needs of those with other disabilities. As of 2013, over 50,000 people in the United States with disabilities benefit from the service of these highly trained, working dogs.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the recognized tasks of service dogs is to assist “a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.”  PTSD commonly results from traumatic experiences, such as the violence to which military personnel in war zones are exposed. PTSD causes biochemical and physical changes in the brain and body, including altered levels of serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters) and size reduction of the hippocampus (one of the memory centers of the brain). Common symptoms include re-experiencing these traumatic events, awake or in dreams, causing tremendous anxiety. PTSD sufferers may even “shut down” at times when their surroundings become too overwhelming.

Service dogs can likely help with the symptoms with PTSD. Anecdotal evidence from dog owners suggests that spending time with dogs, such as chilling on the couch, throwing tennis balls, or going for walks, is relaxing, restorative, and enjoyable. In other words, these interactions relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.  However, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), while acknowledging dogs lessen stress, says “Clinically, there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms.”

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Research is underway to address the issue of whether animal-assisted intervention (AAI) can help our returned veterans struggling with PTSD. At the University of Colorado, Dr. Cheryl A. Krause-Parello, an associate professor in nursing and founder and director of C-P.A.W.W. (Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors: a Health Research Initiative for Veterans), is leading the research. She and her research team are conducting clinical research to investigate the therapeutic effects of AAI.

According to Jessica Grey, one of the research assistants at C-P.A.W.W., dogs sense when PTSD sufferers are becoming anxious. “Their touch can help ground them and bring them back to the here and now.”

C- P.A.W.W. has two grants to study AAI in the military population. One will underwrite a pilot study on the effects of canine interaction on stress indicators  (salivary cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase, immunoglobulin A, blood pressure, and heart rate) in older, hospitalized veterans. The other will investigate “the biobehavioral and psychobiologic interface among animal-assisted therapy and stress indicators, salivary cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase, and IgA, blood pressure, and pulse, in wounded warriors being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.”

“Plenty of anecdotal evidence indicates that dogs help. Dogs are nonjudgmental and supremely compassionate,” says Grey. “The goals of the research are to provide objective data that indicate how canines relieve stress and to find the cases in which canines can be a reliable source of stress relief. Ultimately, we hope the data will make it easier for those who need this kind of assistance to get it.”

The research methods are non-invasive. To gauge a veteran’s stress level, his/her heart rate and blood pressure are measured and saliva samples taken before and after encounters with a therapy  dog. These measurements and stress markers, such as cortisol levels, in the saliva objectively establish stress levels for analysis.

C- P.A.W.W. is partnering with Pets for Vets and Warrior Canine Connection. Pets for Vets rescues, trains, and matches shelter dogs with veterans looking for companion and service animals. At Warrior Canine Connection, veterans train service dogs as “a valuable opportunity for a Warrior suffering from psychological injuries to reintegrate into civilian life.” The trained dogs are then placed with fellow veterans.

According to the VA, if the clinical evidence ultimately shows that veterans with PTSD benefit from service dogs, the VA will provide veterinary care for these dogs.

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picm_july2014First published in Pets in the City Magazine, July 2014