Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Ok, so let's be honest, the dog is not mine. It belongs to my daughter, although I get visitation rights and walk him at least once a week. I’ve noticed that these walks produce odd behaviours in my fellow humans. They stop and talk to me.
Walking alone, without Buddy, I’ll get the occasional ‘Good morning’, but that’s it. The majority of folks pass on, going about their exercise, listening to music or chatting. With Buddy skipping along besides me, I get automatic status as a nice guy, and people tell you stuff. It usually starts with the questions … “What his name?” and “Is he a rescue?”.
A reply of “Yes” always gets a reaction. Thus, it unfolds. This week, an old chap gave me the history of his cancer, details of family health, then a discourse on fitness. I’ve had ladies tell of marriage problems, including one who left her husband because “the bastard didn’t like the dog.”
Now, Buddy is a handsome specimen for a rescue dog. A poodle mix with a waddling gait, he’s a floppy eared crowd pleaser. Size is a factor. He’s not too small, and not too big to intimidate. His manner is ‘give me a tummy rub and now’. An animal demanding attention and affection, brings out the best in people. There is a message of hope for humankind in that.
Buddy’s powers extend to business meetings. My daughter takes him to work a couple of days a month. He’s adapted well to the environment, opening the day moving around the office. His winning ways pay off with prospective clients, as he flops in their lap during negotiations. The atmosphere usually flips as he arrives, tensions lift, and deals get done. Not everyone reacts well. One client proved uncomfortable. Anyway, it was decided not to do business with her. Buddy had sniffed out a tricky prospect.
I shouldn't have a surprise at these occurrences. The power of dogs to impact human emotions, affect health and trigger other effects is well-documented. The value of dogs for physical and psychological human health has interested academics for decades. Much of the recent focus is on the role of dogs as early warning systems for human disease.
The notion that dogs help keep us well is not new. For instance, a 1992, study of 5,741 people attending screening for heart disease, discovered that the risk factors were lower for dog owners. Particularly for males. Then, research in 1996 established that dog owners have lower levels of serum triglycerides. High levels are associated with increased risk for heart attack. Across a wide range of factors, dog ownership is beneficial to health.
Then you have the finding that dogs help people recover quicker from ill-health. Dog owners were 8.6 times more likely to still be alive one year after a heart attack than those who did not own a dog. Sorry to say that the cat owners are more likely to have died in that one year.
The question is how does Buddy protect me from a heart attack? It’s believed many mechanisms are at play. Dogs may, for example, promote their owners’ psychological health. Dogs also shield their owners from stress, one of the risk factors associated with ill-health. In studies, the act of stroking a dog causes a decrease in human blood pressure and heart rate. That’s a good thing.
Increased physical activity accompanies ownership of a dog. The relationship between physical fitness and physiological well-being is well established. Thus, by getting you out on walks, the dog improves your fitness, which in turn enhances your mood. Double bonus there. Then, with Buddy generating people interactions, I get the benefit of social contact. That’s something we all seek.
Things get interesting when you consider the role of dogs in detecting human diseases. That some dogs can detect cancer is not surprising given their acute sense of smell. Tumors produce odorous toxins, which emerge through sweat glands and urine.
Individual dogs may be able to sense oncoming epileptic seizures in humans. Until recently, that idea seemed daft. Recent work has shown that some dogs can indeed detect the seizures. Moreover, trained dogs track their human owners for signs of an imminent attack. When they discover something, barking or pawing prompts medical help. Although, we don’t know how the dog knows an attack is coming.
Dog-based therapy schemes are well-established in prisons, medical facilities and old folks homes. Again, the dogs enhance psychological welfare with remarkable results attained in rehabilitating offenders.
And yes, dogs do make you more attractive. Academics surveyed 1,000 Americans to see how men and women perceived the opposite sex according to the type of pet that they owned.
Across the board, people found members of the opposite sex more attractive if they owned any pet. The only exception was cats. These made women less attractive to men. On the flip side, men who had a puppy were found to be a staggering 23.8% more sexy by women. Pet ownership appeared to show trustworthiness and compassion. Both genders’ perception of scariness, was increased by cat ownership. Bad news for the cat ladies.
Dogs do so much for us. They hunt, fight, guard, and find us when we go missing. They detect crime, spot diseases while allowing blind people to lead a fuller life. Amongst their many talents, the ability of dogs to socialise with us and ease our interaction with others is remarkable. In a stressful world, with constant pressures, that is their most significant skill.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.