13 April 2020
From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.
Throughout human history, we have used animals for food and for work. But thousands of years ago, we began using them for something else – companionship.
They became our pets.
Pets are a source of comfort and happiness. They give their owners good feelings and a sense of purpose, especially during stressful or difficult times.
And we are, indeed, in stressful times.
In many parts of the world, people are under stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Stuck indoors, many people may feel isolated and lonely.
Having a pet – especially a dog – can help.
Health benefits of dogs
Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States say pets can help ease "loneliness and depression by giving us companionship."
They make special note of the helpful effects of dogs. The CDC says that dogs can have many helpful and healthy effects on the lives of their owners.
Dogs, the health organization says, can: influence social, emotional and mental development in children; help make their owners more physically active; provide companionship; and reduce people's stress and anxiety.
The CDC estimates that around 38 percent of American households have one or more dogs.
Dogs versus cats
Cats are the other most common pet in the United States. Of course, cats can provide affection and companionship. But they also are known for sometimes being selfish and a bit distant.
I myself am a cat owner. My cat sleeps a lot, has no interest in exercise and gives a limited amount of affection. If I pet her too much, she will walk away.
The coronavirus stay-at-home orders have led to many pet memes online. In them, dogs appear very happy that their owners are home all the time. The memes show dogs saying things like, "Yay! Another walk! That's 14 for today!"
In the coronavirus cat memes, however, cats are saying things like, "Why is this human in my house so much?" and "Don't you have a job to go to?"
Dogs are known for being extra affectionate and loyal toward their owners. They like to go on walks, and they like the company of humans. And most experts agree that dogs became pets before cats. So perhaps they have simply had more time to perfect the art of being a pet!
Evan MacLean is a biological anthropologist at the University of Arizona. Biological anthropologists combine biological and social studies, often to better understand human evolution.
MacLean says that dogs may provide welcome emotional support during the current worldwide health crisis. He says that owning a dog not only makes a person feel good emotionally -- dogs also appear to help control "heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol – a hormone involved in stress responses."
MacLean adds that simply petting your dog in a soft, slow way may help you both feel more at ease.
On its website, the CDC lists some health benefits of pet ownership (including cats!) They include:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased cholesterol levels
- Decreased feelings of loneliness
- Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
MacLean says dogs can give us support and help us "weather the storm." In other words, they help us get through a very bad time.
Dogs may provide support and be beside us "through thick and thin." If a pet or a person is with you "through thick and thin," they are with you through good times and bad. In other words, they are loyal. And this loyalty can be very comforting.
Let's not forget that there is work involved in keeping a pet. Taking care of our pets may help give us a sense of purpose. A dog always needs to walk outside. In our current situation, this gives dog owners a reason to (safely) leave the house and get some fresh air. And, it makes them get a little exercise.
All of that is important and helpful.
"One thing we know is that sitting around worrying doesn't do much good for our mental health. So, refocusing our mental energy on something positive could bring relief at a time like this," MacLean says.
And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.
Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
companionship – n. the good feeling that comes from being with someone else
comfort – v. to ease the grief or trouble of
stressful – adj. making you feel worried or anxious
isolation – n. the act of separating something from other things
anxiety – n. fear or nervousness about what might happen
meme – n. an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture
loyal – adj. having or showing complete and constant support for someone or something
evolution – n. the process of development of an animal or a plant
focus – v. to direct your attention or effort at something specific : refocus – to again direct your attention or effort at something specific
relief – n. the removal or reducing of something that is painful or unpleasant