Dogs, cats, and the people who love them

Jan 26th, 2022 | By | Category: Spotlight

The symbiotic relationship between pets and pet owners provides benefits beyond cozy companionship. As a matter of fact, scientific research demonstrates a link between human-animal interaction and healthy aging—even as far as being something a doctor would order.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) studied the power of animal connections and found that engaging with pets can provide physical and mental health–so much so that 74 percent of doctors surveyed said that, if they could, they would prescribe a pet to improve the overall health of their patients.

Owning, interacting with and caring for a pet contributes to good health in a number of ways. A University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging surveyed a national sample of adults 50 to 80 years old. The pet owners reported their furry pals help them enjoy life (88 percent), make them feel loved (86 percent), reduce stress (79 percent), provide a sense of purpose (73 percent), help them stick to a routine (62 percent), connect them with other people (65 percent), help them be physically active (64 percent overall and 78 percent among dog owners), help them cope with physical and emotional symptoms (60 percent overall and 72 percent among those who lived alone and/or reported fair or poor physical health), and take their mind off pain (34 percent).

“Get a pet” belongs on a list of things that people should do to maintain their health and support healthy aging, said HABRI president Steven Feldman.

“When health insurance providers are looking at wellness incentives and keeping costs down, pet ownership provides another way for older adults to stay healthy and save money,” he said.

The national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) backs up that viewpoint, noting that pet owners have more opportunities to exercise, be outdoors and socialize by walking or playing with pets, while decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The companionship of pets can also help fend off loneliness and depression.

“Having that sense of responsibility can help people avoid things like isolation, which can lead to inactivity and unhealthy lifestyle choices,” said Dr. Abhimanyu Uberoi, a cardiologist for Kaiser Permanente. “It’s a mixed bag of benefits. You feel psychologically and physically better because you’re exercising, you feel a sense of duty because you have this pet that loves you unequivocally, and that can release positive hormones in the brain.”

But the fact that most households have at least one pet isn’t necessarily always a good thing, according to the CDC. The agency notes that pets can make people sick. Children younger than 5 years old, anyone with weakened immune systems, and people 65 and older are more likely to get diseases spread between animals and people (also known as zoonotic diseases). Pregnant women are also at a higher risk for certain animal-related diseases.

To have the right kind of pet, keep in mind:

  • Households with kids younger than 5 shouldn’t have reptiles (turtles, lizards, snakes), amphibians (frogs, toads), or backyard poultry because of the risk of serious illness from germs spread by the animals.
  • People with weakened immune systems should ask for a veterinarian’s advice for picking the best pet.
  • Pregnant women should avoid adopting a new cat or handling stray cats, especially kittens. Cats can carry a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, a disease that can cause birth defects in humans. Women don’t have to give up a household cat after getting pregnant, but they should avoid handling cat litter. They should also avoid pet rodents to prevent exposure to lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, another cause of birth defects.

 

HEARD A LOT IN KING COUNTY: “Here, Bella! Here, Lucy!”

If you’re a pet owner in King County, chances are you have a Bella, Lucy or Luna around the house. Those are the three most popular names for dogs or cats that are licensed by the county.

Regional Animal Services of King County has a list of 2021’s top names for the 66,279 dogs and 27,020 cats that were on the license rolls. Bella is the most frequent dog name. Cats answer most often to Luna. And the second most-popular moniker for dogs and cats is Lucy.

The full top-10 lists are:

  • For dogs, Bella, Lucy, Max, Charlie, Buddy, Daisy, Luna, Bailey, Cooper, and Molly.
  • For cats, Luna, Lucy, Bella, Max, Shadow, Charlie, Kitty, Jack, Lily, and Oliver.

Note that five of the names–Bella, Lucy, Luna, Max, Charlie—cross the line between dog lovers and cat lovers by being on each list.

King County pet names apparently are in step with the rest of the U.S. People magazine, citing various sources, says the top names nationally for dogs are  Bella, Luna, Lucy, Daisy, Zoe, Lily, Lola, Bailey, Stella, Molly, Max, Charlie, Milo, Buddy, Rocky, Bear, Leo, Duke, Teddy, and Tucker; and the cat names of most frequent choice are Luna, Bella, Lily, Lucy, Nala, Kitty, Chloe, Stella, Zoe, Lola, Oliver, Leo, Milo, Charlie, Max, Simba, Jack, Loki, Ollie, and Jasper.

Besides (and more important than) playing the name game, licensing of pets in King County helps reunite lost animals with their owners. The finder of a wandering pet can call the phone number on its tag 24 hours a day, seven days a week to have it picked up and taken to an animal shelter. A pet that’s lost and picked up for the first time can even get a free ride home, said Gene Mueller, a veterinarian who manages the county’s animal services.

In addition to helping pay for handling lost pets and injured animals, pet license fees support animal neglect and cruelty investigations, spay and neuter programs, and pet adoptions.

License purchases and other information is available at kingcounty.gov/pets and, in Pierce County, from the county auditor at piercecountywa.gov/licensing.

The camaraderie that people have with their pets extends to human interactions via places like off-leash dog parks, including one at Mountlake Terrace in King County.

 

FAMOUS CANINES OF THE NORTHWEST

Crosscut.com, a non-profit news site that is a service of Cascade Public Media, recently delved into dog lore of the Pacific Northwest, sharing accounts of legendary canines that starred in movies, accompanied epic historical explorations, and were used by Native tribes for making blankets.

  • Lassie was a sensation — a great movie star — who debuted in the 1943 MGM picture “Lassie Come Home,” starring Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor. Both were upstaged by a lovely rough collie named Lassie. The action in that first film took place in Scotland, but parts were actually filmed in the remote Stehekin Valley on Lake Chelan, landscape Lassie traversed to find her way home after being sold. Rainbow Falls was one of those stand-ins for a “Scottish” location.

While the scenes were brief, they inspired MGM to return to feature more of the incredible Chelan landscape in Technicolor. A sequel, “Courage of Lassie,” again starring Elizabeth Taylor, was filmed near Stehekin during World War II, in the fall of 1944.

  • A dog hero that arrived with explorers was Seaman, a Newfoundland who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition from Missouri to the mouth of the Columbia River and back in the early 1800s. Seaman belonged to Capt. Meriwether Lewis and is the only animal expedition member to make the entire trip out and back.

The trip wasn’t easy for dogs or humans. Seaman was reportedly made miserable by clouds of mosquitoes, was bitten by a beaver and required surgery, and was even briefly appropriated by some Native admirers. And he avoided being eaten. The expedition members were said to have eaten over 200 dogs on their journey, taking protein where they could find it when game was scarce. Only explorer William Clark abstained.

  • The Makah and Coast Salish peoples kept two distinct types of dogs in their communities. One was the so-called “village” dog —with short, brown hair and resembling a coyote. The other was a smaller, long-haired pooch known as the “wool” or “woolly dog,” bred for its beautiful thick, white hair. The two types of dog were kept apart to prevent interbreeding.

The woolly dog produced a prodigious coat and was annually sheared in the spring, just as sheep were. The dogs’ white hair was used to weave Salish blankets — high-prestige items that were also made from the hair of rare mountain goats. At the time of early European contact, explorers noted the thickness of the woolly dog’s fleece. George Vancouver wrote that the dogs resembled Pomeranians, but a bit larger. Early explorers were stunned by the quality of dog yarn.

 

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