Pets for Your Health: Heart


Pets are good for your heart.

Sure, they fill your heart with love.  But they also do your heart good.

For one, studies repeatedly show that pets reduce stress, anxiety, and blood pressure, all which contribute to heart disease. Less stress and lower blood pressure = less risk of developing heart disease. For example, a study shows that male pet owners have less signs of heart disease (such as lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels) than men without pets.

Pets also encourage more physical activity, such as dog walking. According to one study, dog owners are more likely to walk and be active than non-dog owners. They were 54 percent more likely to engage in the recommended level of physical activity. People who are active are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

Dog and owner walking

For heart attack patients, those with pets survive longer than those patients without pets. According to the American Heart Association, pet ownership is likely associated with reduced heart disease risk factors and with increased survival among patients.

So, take heart in the good news, knowing that having a pet is good for you. After all, your pet has your well-being at heart.


Run of the Mill Pets

My beloved Beagle, Buzz, recently turned 15. I know this because, unlike my two rescues who have mystery backgrounds, Buzz came with a certified pedigree, a piece of paper in which I once took pride.

I found my pedigreed pup in a wall of cages filled with young dogs of different breeds. This was standard practice not so long ago. I wasn’t alarmed. Instead, I ignorantly shelled out $500, not knowing what I was buying into: multi-billion dollar business profiting on a factory-style turnaround of animals bred as commodities.

Buzz wasn’t the haphazard result of someone’s “pet” getting pregnant. (Pets, in many jurisdictions, are defined as being kept by owners “for pleasure rather than utility and/or commercial purposes.”) My little black-and-tan buddy wasn’t the whelp of someone with a hobby permit, because such animals are rendered sterile. Nor was he bred by a “fancier,” an owner of purebreds who must keep no more than one litter at a time up to a specified age and comply with zoning and health department regulations.

depositphotos_70612097_originalSadly, Buzz came from a puppy mill*, bred by parents who likely lived in filthy wire cages covered in their own increment, bred multiple times to mass produce puppies – many of whom are shipped to other states (such as the case with Buzz) – with rarely a scratch to the ears or a kind word.

At least word has gotten out on puppy mills. Many of us now know that buying a puppy from a pet store or on-line often means that we’re lining the pockets of indiscriminate breeders (including backyard breeders cashing in on their dogs).

Unfortunately, mills aren’t limited to puppies. If there’s a buck to be made, breeders are ready to cash in: purebred cats, “designer dogs” (see the Oct. 2012 issue), ferrets, hedgehogs, birds, reptiles, mice and rats (especially for laboratory experiments or to be used as reptile food), fish, and wild exotics (that shouldn’t be pets, period).

From whom should we get our pets? First check out shelters and rescue groups. You can find purebreds, if that’s important to you, or surprise yourself by melting into the eyes of whoever is waiting for you.

If looking for a specific breed, seek out a responsible breeder. Go to the animal’s home and insist on seeing the parents. Are they free to roam? Do they lovingly interact with their human caretakers or shy away? Are vaccinations up to date? Are there just a couple of adult animals or are there many?

If seeking a caged animal, again look for tell-tale signs of a mill (the sales of exotics add up to $15 billion in the U.S. alone). Are there many animals? Are there employees, suggesting it’s a business? Are they socialized and used to human touch from regular handling? Are they housed in appropriately spacious cages? For example, a single adult boa restrictor requires a minimum of 10 square feet of floor space with 3’ walls, a strong branch for climbing, and a hiding space to feel secure. If stored in drawers, be concerned about rewarding such behavior with a financial transaction.

Responsible breeders give references, provide written contracts and health guarantees, explain genetic problems unique to a breed and provide documentation of the parents being evaluated in an effort to breed out these problems, and offer guidance for care. Responsible breeders also want to meet you to ensure their animals are going to good homes.

We need to stop the mills from turning. Otherwise, we support a business that breeds animals when there’s already an overpopulation crisis and where many animals die and suffer in the process before you see the cleaned-up doggy in the window that will tug your heart strings or the exotic bird or snake that is “cool.”

An animal shouldn’t just get a happy ending with you. It deserves a happy beginning too.


* A Google search confirmed my suspicions: multiple USDA inspections cite the Grand River Kennels of Macksburg, IA for no attending veterinarian, a dirty “whelping building” with enclosures needing “to have feces removed and maintained,” and “protruding wires or frayed chicken wire.”



First published in Pets in the City Magazine, September 2013

“Blue Bear and Snow Toad:” Available and Garnering Reviews

Blank book cover vector template isolated on white background.In September, the story of  “Blue Bear and Snow Toad” was officially published in a beautiful, hardcover glossy children’s book, just in time for the holidays.

What a thrill to finally have it in hand!

In the midst of selling my home, however, I neglected to shout out to the world how thrilled I was to have this beloved story, conceived over a decade ago, sitting on my shelf and available from Amazon.

My wintery tale is garnering wonderful reviews from readers. Here are a few highlights.

“…It’s a wonderful way to take that end of day energy your toddler or young child may have and channel it into a meaningful bed time story…”   -Myers3203

“…whimsical illustrations capture their emotions as they endure the cold so they can experience the winter wonderland…”   -Bobbie Onas


“…a captivating story that the kids want to read over and over again…”   -Charles Winston III

“…gather the little ones, grab a warm throw, and snuggle together to read this treasure of a story!”   -Emmaree Josephson

It recently received its first professional review from Kirkus, the source for librarians!

“charming picture book”

“a delightful ode to the season”

“the rhymes scan beautifully”

“an excellent choice for lap readers at bedtime”


As to “debut writer,” probably because this book is the first one in their system. That’s my theory.

Kirkus review


How Do We Appreciate Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

In the month marked for expressing gratitude, I’m going with the spirit of Thanksgiving, minimizing my usual peevishness. After all, we are blessed to share our lives with our animal companions and all they share with us.

So, I offer a humble litany of thanks for…

…Dogs who teach us joy in all that is encountered. From our wagging friends, we learn the need for jaunts outdoors and that water is the best drink of all. Dogs, great and small, model what it is to be family and a good friend: loyal, loving, quick to forgive, and thrilled to see a beloved every time they walk through the door.

…Our feline friends who instruct us in the art of stretching, often overlooked despite our stressful lives. More introverted than dogs, cats teach us to set aside a space and the time for solitary quiet reflection. With a purr, they teach the value of expressing thanks for simple pleasures in life. And don’t forget the lessons gleaned from a quick cat nap to revitalize for the rest of the day.

…Birds who bring a splash of color to our lives. Ever curious with a keen intelligence, they teach us the ongoing value of taking a perpetual interest in the world around. They also teach us to eat vegetables and fruit.

…Fish who convey tranquility, mesmerizing us with the beauty found in their aquatic realm. While birds of a feather flock together, fish teach us acceptance of diversity found in their microcosmic communities reflective of their natural homes.

…Horses who teach us the value of working together, creating a ballet achieved moving as one. They show us the freedom to be found in a wild frolic and the wisdom of warming down. Horses teach the value of trust earned, for these large-eyed creatures are less quick to friendship than dogs. You know you’ve done well to have the love of a horse.

…Long-toothed rabbits, mice, and rats (and fellow rodentia) who teach the need for community. They know the warmth of the family nest, and contentment of snuggling together and preening one another. They make the most of small places and know the value of frugality.

…Snakes, lizards, and turtles who teach patience, keeping an eye on long-term goals. Reptiles teach the value of finding a sunny spot to bask in warmth. They teach acceptance of a slow pace and meditating on all that is observed.

This list of animals is incomplete, let alone the listing of their many virtues or the benefits we glean by proximity. This summary only begins to illustrate why we should give thanks for their tolerance and acceptance of us.

In return, they ask for gentle handling, water, food, and a home appropriate to their n needs. They give much with expectation of little. Shame on the humans who can’t provide in kind (couldn’t help myself with one little finger wag), and a big thank you to those who appreciate the blessings and lessons bestowed on us by the finned, feathered, scaled, and furred.



First published in Pets in the City Magazine, November 2013



British black cat