There’s a wave sweeping across the country that spells good news for animals and people of all stripes, including pet owners and veterinarians. Legislatures, universities and small nonprofits are recognizing the power of the human-animal bond, and research is backing up their discoveries. This could lead to a surge in demand for pets throughout the United States as the positive value of animals and their effects on people are better understood. Put simply: pets do good, so why not provide more people with an opportunity?
Here are three groups of people who are directly benefiting from increasing recognition of the value of the bond:
1. Veterans with PTSD. The 2013 Texas legislature passed a bill requiring that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) be allowed to bring their service dogs into public venues. Texas Gov. Rick Perry placed the human-animal bond front and center in signing the bill: “For veterans suffering from PTSD, a service animal can be a strong part of their recovery and a comforting presence in the midst of what can feel like chaotic and stressful situations,” he said in a public release. “This bill is a smart way for us to give back and help any Texan, including our veterans, lead a healthy, productive life.”
2. Stressed-out college students. The University of Minnesota just launched its PAWS (“Pet Away Worry and Stress”) program to link specially trained dogs, cats, rabbits and even a bird with university students in the midst of final exam stress. Scientists have known for years that animals can help lower human blood pressure and reduce stress hormones. This simple idea is a smash hit with students, and it may be hard to keep up with demand.
3. Misunderstood youth—and animal species. It’s not just cuddly, loyal dogs who can teach or calm people. Trails Carolina is convinced that children in difficult circumstances gain invaluable insights into themselves by appreciating unique animal species. In its wilderness program for troubled youth, students are placed with “misunderstood” animals such as snakes, turtles and opossum and taught to handle and appreciate these animals and their challenges in a biodiverse world. This program, with its ingenious therapy curriculum, takes the human-animal bond one step further.
If growing research and examples like these are correct, our society must be prepared to devote more resources and creativity to how we connect humans with animals. Pets aren’t accessories; they are vital to a healthy culture. America needs to step up and put this simple principle to work. And one place to start could be linking veterinary colleges with land grant animal science departments and university medical centers to develop practical and scientific applications of the human-animal bond. We have barely scratched the surface.
Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.
The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on dvm360.com helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement.