“Man’s best friend” is a popular term for domestic dogs possessing close relationships with humans. Frederick the Great of Prussia was believed to be the first to coin the phrase, and it was later popularized in a poem by Ogden Nash. Dogs stand out from other creatures due to loyalty to their owners. These beloved human companions are known to provide comfort to their families during difficult times, such as during the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Wise chaplains at Cardiff University understand the positive effects of human interactions with dogs. In seeking to comfort students struggling with social distancing and restrictions in Wales, they initiated a weekly walk and talk event accompanied by some very lovable furry canines.
Each week, the dog-walking event at Cardiff allows students to meet other classmates while safely socially distancing. It also offers students pastoral support during a stressful time in communities dealing with lockdowns. Reverend Delyth Liddell and his seven-year-old beagle Dave attend the walks, along with Ianto, a playful young cocker spaniel. Together, the outdoor exercise is designed to break the barriers of loneliness and seclusion due to the pandemic. Many students find the walks with people-loving dogs comforting and suggest that it adds normalcy to their lives.
There are many benefits derived from spending time with animals, and scientific evidence backs this important theory. A study performed in Sweden by a team of scientists and published in Nature’s Scientific Reports in 2017 links dog ownership to lower mortality rates in humans. The conclusion is based on examining Sweden’s records that spanned more than 3.4 million of their citizens, aged 40 to 80, over 12 years. The findings demonstrate that dog owners have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and a lower risk of death. While it is believed that exercise and lifestyle choices may come into play, dog owners tend to get more exercise than non-dog owners. It is estimated that, on average, people with pets achieve 22 more minutes of moderate-paced walking on average per day than people without dogs.
The simple act of petting a dog is believed to have calming effects capable of boosting one’s mood and easing depression. Cleveland Clinic cites that therapy animals have been trusted companions for people with disabilities for many years. Marwayn Sabbagh, MD, of Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, expounds, “Simply petting an animal can decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol and boost the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and possibly in an elevated mood.”
Frontiers in Psychology seeks to examine the science of human-animal interaction (HAI) relationships and HAI’s impact on the aging population. Some findings indicate a link between pet ownership and reduced depression for older adults, in part likely related to a strong emotional bond between humans and pets. Though the Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our schedules and social lives, the caring Chaplains are Cardiff are indeed onto something special. They truly understand the vital role that man’s best friend can play in keeping us socially engaged, physically fit, happier, and healthier during this unprecedented and challenging time in world history.