Ruibal column: Benefits of pets on young and old
Lucy the Corgi is bona fide crazy. She doesn’t come when called. She will shoot off into the next town if unleashed or if she finds a crack to squeeze through. She doesn’t share her toys, even though she never plays with them herself. She can sense when the atmospheric pressure changes even the slightest bit and will take shelter behind the toilet.
But the best thing about Lucy’s intense connection to the greater powers at be is that she knows when you’re sad.
Little Ricky the Corgi will keep being his goofy self whether you’re joyful or full of sorrow. But Lucy, she knows. She will cuddle close and lap her tongue at your face, arm, ankle, whatever she can get at.
When Phineas the Cat died, my mom said she told both corgis. Little Ricky kept his tongue flopping out and eyes crossed. But Lucy knew. She became more demure. She stayed a lot closer.
Could all of this be crazy pet owner talk? Maybe. But there is some science to it.
In 2015, researchers in Vienna found that dogs could tell a human’s emotion just by looking at his or her face.
Professor Ludwig Huber of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, which conducted the study, said it demonstrates that dogs can tell that happy and angry faces have different meanings, even in faces they have never seen before.
Dogs are the only animals besides humans that have demonstrated this trait.
When I moved here, the only people I knew were my boss and my landlady/roommate. I’ve grown a lot closer to my coworkers — we go hiking on weekends and take midday breaks for milkshakes — and have made friends with people at the CrossFit gym I go to.
But when my mom asked me who my best friend is here, I was quick to answer.
Typo is the Post Independent office cat. She, like Lucy, is a little funny and finicky at times. It took her about a month to interact with me in any way besides just glaring at me from a co-worker’s desk. But now I start every day by tapping on my desk, her cue to leap up and join me. She gets scratches behind the ears, pets down her back and, if she’s feeling especially friendly, a belly rub.
I’m sure Typo loves her morning massage. But I think I’m the one who benefits more.
Monday night was a terrible, rotten, no good night for me as I dealt with a bit of heartbreak. I wasn’t looking forward to putting on a happy face and clearing my mind to focus on work the next day.
But I was looking forward to seeing Typo.
I was looking forward to her nuzzling the side of her head into my open palm. I was excited to see someone who was excited to see me, too.
According to a 2011 study by the Mental Health Foundation, 87 percent of people who owned a cat said it had a positive impact on their well-being. 76 percent said it made coping with everyday life easier thanks to the company a pet provides.
Being 22 is weird in that you simultaneously feel like you know everything and absolutely nothing. It’s also weird moving across the country from loved ones and loved pets. But when Typo stares at me with her wise, green eyes, I know I have a friend who understands without even saying anything. Or I have a feline that’s plotting against me. Either way, she cares. And isn’t going to roast me in the comments section.
Being 85 is also weird. My granny and granddaddy back in Ohio live in assisted living. My granny is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.
About a year ago, on QVC they were selling “companion pets” — plush cats or dogs with a robotic interior. These weren’t like the robot dog craze of the ’90s. They were soft and plush with lifelike movements. The companion pets respond to different touch and to a person’s voice. Their eyes open and close. To some with Alzheimer’s, they might as well be the real thing.
The New York Times published an article about nursing homes that use the companion pets in their Memory Care unit. Patients who felt lonely, confused inactive or without purpose, found comfort and what they were longing for in these pets.
“Sometimes she believes it’s a real cat,” a caregiver told the New York Times. “Sometimes she just knows it’s a source of tremendous joy. For us, as long as it’s a source of tremendous joy, we just follow her narrative.”
Nursing homes have also found success with baby dolls and Alzheimer’s patients. Having someone or some animal who relies on you and is just happy to be around you taps into a part of our human nature I think is especially hard to take away.
My granny now has a regular soft, fluffy stuffed dog. It sits in her lap sometimes. She plays with its ears. Most importantly, she talks to it. It might not be a language any of us understand, but it makes sense to her.
My connection to Typo and to Lucy and even silly Little Ricky might seem child-like and juvenile. But it makes all the sense in the world to me. It’s very real. And I hope you’re able to have such a connection too.
Sallee Ann Ruibal is engagement editor at the Post Independent and follows 30-plus corgi accounts on Instagram. You can follow her there and on Twitter @salleeannruibal. Features Editor Carla Jean Whitley took the week off of “Whit’s End” to allow someone else to rave about pet ownership. You can still follower her cats on Instagram @thebrothersorange.
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