A few weeks ago I lost my sweet corgi, Quinn. He was 14 years old and had been in my life (and heart) for over ten of those years. He came into our family as an early retirement (okay, failed) show dog from a Montana breeder since he had developed an auto-immune disorder. Quinn was my steady companion, my guardian (he had a ferocious ‘big dog’ bark to turn away any would-be home intruders—as long as they didn’t actually see him). He allowed me to sob into his fur after the death of both of my parents and the dissolution of my family of origin. He made sure I took regular breaks from my writing life in order to walk him and to meet the neighbors in the process. He helped define safety and love and the meaning of home.
I am reminded of the importance of pets to the mental health and well-being of people in general, but especially to those dealing with depression, loneliness, isolation, and homelessness. My patients tell me this all the time and a growing body of scientific literature supports these claims. Even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a web page devoted to the health benefits of pets, although their links to additional information are broken. Pet Partners, a pioneer in human-animal positive bonds and community-based pet therapy programs, has a list of health benefits of pets and animal therapy. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) through MedlinePlus Health News has up-to-date results of research studies on the health benefits of pets, including the article “Hey, Single Folk: Adopting a Dog Could Lengthen Your Life” (November 17, 2017, by Robert Preidt).
Whenever I do The Meaning of Home values clarification exercise with groups of people—whether or not they have ever been or are currently home-less or un-housed—pets invariably rank up there with family members as the most important ingredients of home. Below, I include some of my favorite pet-related results of this exercise.