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Taylor Easley

CP English 12
Period 7
10/5/16
The Relational Significance of the Human-Animal Bond
The companionship between man and animal is an eternal chronicle. This timeless bond
has been studied to a greater extent in recent years than ever before. Not only is this relationship
something largely overlooked, its trivialized and seen as inconsequential in the field of mental
health. Within the past few decades alone, companion animals have become an almost essential
part of family life. When asked, families supply a number of reasons for owning pets. However,
what they tend to value above all else is the sense of companionship. This companionship is
what has led animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and interventions to become an exceedingly
significant branch in the medical field. Animal-assisted therapy is used with hospitalized patients
as a method of both physical and mental recovery. Patients coping with health issues such as
heart disease, cancer, and various mental health disorders have also found comfort in AAT.
Countless numbers of researchers have found that simply an animal's presence drastically
decreases levels of depression, stress/anxiety, and overall loneliness amongst family households.
In turn, this relationship greatly merits attention from mental health researchers investigating the
effect animals have on our everyday lives.
Most people who own pets are often found to possess certain characteristics; a greater
capacity for love, sympathy, and compassion are the qualities that enable people to form such
strong bonds with their animals (Walsh). Companion animals continue to become a prominent
essence of American home life. Based on a past APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 65% of
American households (and 75% with children) own at least one pet. Also based on said survey,

about 85% of pet owners consider and refer to their pets as members of the family. Many
consider them full members, and treat them as if theyre just as important (if not more so) than
the others. In fact, some even feel closest to their pet. In the U.S., dogs, cats, horses, and birds
are the most common animals kept as pets. Our dogs and cats are pampered quite a bit. Each
participant in the survey claimed to give their pets gifts on holidays; 87% reported to include
them in holiday festivities; 52% prepare them special meals; 65% sing or dance for them; 53%
would take off work to aid a sick pet; and 44% of people even take their pet to work (Wells et
al). The amount of money spent on our pets has doubled over the past few years, exceeding the
gross national product of various advancing populaces (Walsh). Veterinary care is a prominent
expense among pet-owning families. Pet lovers will many times go to extreme lengths to provide
the best care for their animals, often investing in pricey medical treatments/medication for
serious illnesses. Consumer products and services aimed towards pets are multiplying at a
staggering rate. Said products range from special toys, meals and grooming products to pet
hotels, day spas, and even acupuncture (Walsh). The same goes for service animals. Service
animals withstand comprehensive training exercises to live with and assist individuals with
disabilities. Their crucial position in sustaining optimal degrees of functioning and well being
make their bond especially vital (Sachs-Ericsson et al).
Research on companion animals and their impact on mental health has been augmented
by numerous clinical studies. Boris Levinson, a child psychologist, innovated animal-assisted
therapy and noticed that the bond between people and animals could be a lifeline for those who
may be considered susceptible to physical or emotional harm. He also concluded that owning a
pet is one of the ways humanity maintains its sanity (Walsh). Various studies suggest animals

may be able to recognize early signs of medical problems such as hypoglycemia, cancer, and/or
seizures due to their higher levels of neurophysiological processing (Wells). Theyve also been
known to help those with health disorders and developmental disabilities such as anxiety,
schizophrenia, ADHD, and depression by creating a pleasant social atmosphere (crucial for
optimal executive functioning) (Barker et al). Animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted
activities (AAA) are proliferating mediums. In the late 19th century, companion animals were
often used as therapeutic resources in many psychiatric residencies. AAAs are assisted by a
therapist and their companion animal after vigilant training and careful planning to intensify the
curative process and promote improvement (Walsh). AAAs are being used all over the world;
countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia are creating programs to be used in facilities like
schools, nursing homes, hospitals, jails, and residential treatment centers (Walsh). For example,
programs in local schools such as Sit Stay Read! lend a helping hand to children with social
anxiety by having them read aloud to a non-judging certified reading-assistance dog. Programs
similar to this are provided by trained professionals who are obligated to have their animals meet
certain specifications. A multitude of community-based volunteer programs provide friendly
meet and greet activities where a service dog will visit hospital patients or nursing home
residents. The effectiveness of these meet and greets has been particularly well documented.
When visited, residents are happier, more responsive and more alert (Crowley Robinson et al).
There is more social interaction and laughter found amongst AAA than any alternative form of
therapy (Bernstein et al).
Over the past 30 years, copious amounts of research and practicalities offer substantial
evidence that human-animal communications are conducive to psychological well being and

overall good health (Walsh). Researchers findings suggest it is actually quite common for
individuals to feel closer to their pet than to other people. A common misconception about
pet-owners is that they're socially inept and prefer their furry companions to other people.
Descartes, a French philosopher who denigrated animals, influenced many 20th century
behavioral psychologists to contend them as immensely inferior to humans. These views have
had a great effect on theories of psychologists today, who presume humans simply "misattribute
'human' feelings to animals with anthropomorphic projections" (Walsh). In other words, humans
project their own feelings and emotions onto their pets and interpret their response (or lack
thereof) in such a way that makes sense to them. However, pet owners have recognized their
animals consistent complex behavior suggesting they do, indeed, express emotions. These
expressive emotions are the key factor in their supposed healing properties used to balance
their owner's psychological welfare. One of the strongest areas of research evidence correlates
pet ownership with positive psychological measures, such as lower blood pressure, serum
triglycerides, and cholesterol levels, (Walsh). In a casual medical survey, 6/10 people
attempting to ameliorate the cardiovascular impact of anxiety claimed that the presence of an
animal had a greater effect than a friend or family member (Allen et al). In other studies,
pet-owning patients who suffered from heart attacks were found to have a notably greater
survival rate (over the span of a year) than those without pets. Individuals who owned medical
response dogs were almost nine times more likely to survive a heart attack, namely due to their
pet alarming others by barking. The effects of owning a pet are typically found to be mutually
beneficial (Wells). Merely petting a dog lowers blood pressure in both the animal and the person
a considerable amount. Organic molecules called neurochemicals related to tranquility and

partnership are increased by human-animal interactions, in turn enhancing the functions of the
human immune system (Charnetsky et al).
As the amplitude of scientific research has increased, it is becoming increasingly
perceptible that companion animals have a great psychological, relational, and physiological
effect on human beings. Their contribution to the improvement of an individuals well being
(due to animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities) holds great possibilities for
beneficial community intervention programs (Walsh). In essence, human beings long for
companionship. That companionship can forever be found in animals. Our pets do a lot more for
us than they could ever imagine; they bring about happiness and peace; devotion and tenderness;
and safety and constancy in our unpredictable lives. We can always count on them to be excited
when we get home from a long day at work, or to comfort us in a time of need. This bond is what
brings great gratification into our hearts and what will bestow us with happy, healthy,
long-lasting lives. As poet Roger Caras once said, [our pets] are not our whole life, but they
make our lives whole.

References
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