Pets are cute and cuddly, but they serve a more important purpose beyond companionship. Research has shown that pets are good for both mental and physical health.
What do researchers mean when they say pets are good for you? This means that they can improve the mental and physical well-being of all pet owners, not just those who are facing health issues such as cancer, depression or some other illness, said Rachel Morse, Oklahoma State University Extension mental health specialist with the Oklahoma 4-H Youth Development Program.
“Research has shown that pet owners have greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less alone, were more conscientious, tended to be less afraid and were more outgoing,” said Walrus. âPets have also been a great source of comfort and companionship for people who have had to transition from a busy office space to their own quiet living room during the COVID-19 pandemic. Others may still have been able to come to the office to work, but otherwise stayed close to home. “
It’s no secret that pets help relieve stress for their owners. Pets are good non-judgmental listeners and they are intuitive. They can experience stress, fear, and sadness, as well as happiness and joy. Research has shown that therapy animals lowered stress levels even a few hours after a short interaction.
âDogs seem to focus on bodily signals and know when to nudge a person or walk around to scratch behind their ears,â she said. âPets can also teach us to take care of ourselves. “
Morse remembers while working at home during the pandemic, getting engrossed in her job all day. Her cat, Miriam, could sense that Morse needed a break and stung her repeatedly.
âAt first it annoyed me, but I realized I hadn’t taken a break all day. It’s so easy to go days without going out, so I started taking Miriam out every day so we both could get some fresh air and some sun to change our routine, âshe said. âAnimals and their owners take care of each other. They can really help us in difficult times.
While most studies focus on traditional pets like dogs and cats, any animal can be a therapeutic pet. Some people find the birds soothing, or maybe a hedgehog, a bearded dragon, or even a tarantula. It is important to find the right animal for each individual.
Recognizing the role of pets in mental health, the OSU Center for Pet Therapy opened this fall to help meet the emotional needs of students, faculty, and staff. What started as a vision for former First Cowgirl, Ann Hargis, Pete’s Pet Posse began in 2013 with eight dogs as a way to focus on student mental health. The program has since grown into a successful pet therapy program with nearly 60 dog / owner teams, said Kendria Cost, director of the OSU Center for Pet Therapy, located at 224 Student Union on the OSU campus.
With students returning to campus this semester, Cost said, visits are increasing dramatically and they are serving more students and areas than ever before.
âWe see the impact of these dogs every day not only on students, but also on faculty and staff,â said Cost. âDogs create smiles, laughs, and a welcome distraction from whatever they are dealing with that day. Research has shown that animals have the ability to fight depression, loneliness, and improve mood. “
The owners / handlers of the dogs in the program serve as ambassadors on behalf of the university, actively listening to student concerns and providing appropriate resources. They make public appearances on campus as well as private tours to organizations, classrooms, and special events that can be scheduled when dogs are available.
âWe make students aware of the services available to them. Dogs allow students to be more receptive and help open a dialogue, âsaid Cost.
To date, the program has touched 263,000 lives and made 4,400 special appearances. At OSU, eight classes of therapeutic teams have been formed. OSU-Tulsa and OSU’s Health Sciences Center have formed three classes of therapy teams. Pete’s Pet Posse was ranked as one of the most popular programs for student satisfaction and retention in OSU’s annual Student Satisfaction Survey.
The Pete’s Pet Posse program is self-funded and supports the Ann Hargis Center for Pet Therapy Endowment Fund, which will help secure the long-term future of the program.
Those interested can find out more about Pete’s Pet Posse by calling 405-744-PUPS (7877) or emailing [email protected] The opening hours of the center are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday. Additional information, including where the tours will take place each week, is available on social media, including Facebook, Instagram (@ pets4pete) and Twitter (@ pets4pete).