The Surprising Benefits of Dog Love
About four months ago I adopted a mini-golden doodle puppy, Dante. I already have a sweet, handsome four-year-old labradoodle, Gianni. He has been my rock and supporter for the past two years since my soul companion, Gianni’s older brother, Marcello, transitioned.
Marcello was my first dog ever. All my life I yearned for a dog of my own. Growing up, I begged my father for a dog but the only living creature I was allowed to have was a goldfish.
As an adult, I did not feel it was okay for me to get a pup when I had two careers which kept me out of the house well into the evening. It wasn’t until I was deep into middle age, when I abandoned the office gig to start my own business, that the long-ago buried desire for a canine companion surfaced. My flexible schedule gave me confidence that I could be a decent dog mom. I was excited about how much fun it would be, how I would no longer be alone, and how I would finally be like everyone else who had dogs in their lives. But I never imagined how a 40-pound golden doodle would change my life.
From the first day I brought him home, Marcello was a handful. Feisty, independent, and not cuddly, he had a way of looking me in the eye, then doing whatever he pleased.
Marcello and I sometimes were outside walking the streets of our neighborhood four times a day. My neighbor remarked that he had seen me more in the six months since Marcello’s arrival than he had in all the 15 years we had lived across the street from each other. Because I had a dog, strangers smiled; some even talked to me. When I began letting Marcello off-leash in the park up the street, I got to know other dog parents while our dogs played. When I joined the local dog park, I made friends that I still enjoy 15 years later.
While being outside more, walking more, and making new friends are impactful and positive benefits of owning a dog, I never imagined that having a dog might even help me live longer. Several studies between 1950 and 2019 found that dog owners had a lower risk of death. Studies also show that dog owners may have lower blood pressure and an improved response to stress. The American Heart Association states that having a dog could reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
I didn’t know that just looking into my dog’s eyes could lift my spirits. A 2009 study in Japan found that when dogs and people look at each other or interact with each other, they both get a surge of oxytocin—which is commonly known as the love hormone because it fosters the development of bonds with others. That’s why it’s not uncommon to find dogs used in hospitals and by therapists to help reduce feelings of depression.
Studies have found that just petting dogs can help lower people’s heart rates and blood pressure. Other research has found dog owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Heart attack patients tend to live longer if they have a canine friend at home.
Having Marcello fulfilled the need I had for unconditional love. He gave me a reason to come home and his overly-enthusiastic greeting every time easily outmatched any parent, partner, or friend’s excitement about my arrival.
Marcello gave me companionship and vastly improved my social life. I no longer had to search through my address book to find a friend available to see a movie, have a drink, or just get together. Instead, I ushered Marcello into the car and we took off, sometimes to the dog pool, other times to an open field where he could play ball. He even came to parties with me.
Marcello helped me cope with crisis. When my aunt became ill, Marcello traveled with me to New York and emotionally supported me through my aunt’s illness and death. When my yoga mentor and friend turned 100, Marcello traveled with me to New York to celebrate her birthday.
Gianni was a panic-yet-perfect acquisition. When I realized Marcello wouldn’t live forever, I was frightened of being without him. That’s when I got Gianni, who I believe kept Marcello youthful until the ripe old age of 15.5.
I love my dogs more than I ever could have imagined. I’ve never loved any living creature more nor have I ever felt as loved by or as close to any human the way I feel towards my boys. My home feels complete because of Gianni and Dante. I waited a long time for my canine companions. For me, they are not just a part of my family, they are my family. I can’t imagine ever being without them. ▼
Pattie Cinelli has been a health and fitness professional and writer for more than 25 years. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.