Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is that "doctor-ordered dog" really doing the job?

There are very few topics more emotional in the community association setting than the issue of whether “man’s best friend” should be part of the community.

As the owner of a very loveable Boxer, I understand the joy of seeing a friendly face and a wildly wagging tale at the end of a long day. I also always assumed that the stories I’ve read about the health benefits that come with living with a pet. However, a recent OpEd piece in the New York Times entitled: “Fido’s No Doctor. Neither is Whiskers” provides some food for thought. The piece was written by Professor Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University.

Professor Herzog asks readers to question survey results showing health benefits accruing to pet owners by pointing out that other surveys show just the opposite. In his column he writes:

A 2006 survey of Americans by the Pew Research Center, for instance, reported that living with a pet did not make people any happier. Similarly, a 2000 Australian study of mortality rates found no evidence that pet owners lived any longer than anyone else. And last year Dutch researchers concluded that companion animals had no effect on their owners’ physical or mental well-being. Worse, in 2006, epidemiologists in Finland reported that pet owners were more likely than non-pet owners to suffer from sciatica, kidney disease, arthritis, migraines, panic attacks, high blood pressure and depression.

This pattern of mixed results also holds true for the widely heralded notion that animals can cure various physical afflictions. For example, a study of people with chronic fatigue syndrome found that while pet owners believed that interacting with their pets relieved their symptoms, objective analysis revealed that they were just as tired, stressed, worried and unhappy as sufferers in a control group who had no pets. Similarly, a clinical trial of cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy found that interacting with therapy dogs did no more to enhance the participants’ morale than reading a book did.

For the full article, please click the link below. When confronted with conflicting data, what is the average reasonable person to do? For me, the choice is easy. I live in an association that has no pet restrictions and I own my Boxer for pure enjoyment so health benefits or no health benefits, my decision to be a pet owner would not change. For those who live in pet-restricted communities and believe they may need an animal for health reasons, I suspect there will be more push-back in the future as to whether or not those health benefits actually exist.

This work by Donna DiMaggio Berger, Esq. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Generic License.

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