BE WELL: The Benefits of Furry Friends

By Abby Jeffers / Photography Courtesy Gigi's Shelter for Dogs

Evidenced by the rise in pet adoptions during the pandemic, the wellness boost and stress relief benefits provided by having pets has been well-known and documented. Whether that increase in adoptions is attributable to the extra time at home or a desire for companionship, a recent article in Forbes Magazine claims that around 68% of American homes have a pet, and the rise is promising for our national and individual health.


According to the CDC, pets provide a number of physical and emotional well-being benefits, like “decreased feelings of loneliness,” lowered stress levels, and “increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities” as well as social activities. Stanford University’s BeWell News also describes the benefits of pet ownership, including the “purpose and meaning” that people can derive from pet ownership as well as the increased focus during crises, emotional support, and lack of judgment that pets can provide. In addition, the same article quotes Martha Kessler, the Stanford University School of Medicine Executive Director of Finance and Administration, as saying that “just petting a dog can help release endorphins and lower heart rates.”


Anecdotal evidence further proves these points: pets like dogs need exercise and attention, and dog owners get to spend time outside playing with and walking their pet. Moreover, dogs are often used as therapy dogs for people in hospitals or veterans with mental health challenges, and some therapists prescribe Emotional Support Animals to supplement their clients’ course of treatment and improve their mental and emotional well-being.


Of course, potential pet owners should do thorough research on a pet before adopting or welcoming them into their home, and owners need to understand the pet’s needs, including exercise, nutrition, home environment, socialization, and costs like vet visits and pet supplies.


Some pets are being returned to shelters as pandemic restrictions lift and people return to in-person work, straining often already-crowded shelters.


One central Ohio organization has created a revolutionary approach to canine homelessness, and as a result helped to bring more pets to families seeking companionship. Founded by local business leaders and philanthropists, Tina and George Skestos (and named for their family pet), Gigi’s brings dogs from overcrowded and rural shelters that lack enough potential adopters to shelters with more space and higher demand while providing grooming, behavioral medicine, and veterinary care in the process, allowing community shelters to focus more on caring for dogs and getting them adopted. The impressive $4M+ facility sits on a 3 acre campus with three buildings and 26,000 total square feet where over 2800 dogs have been treated and saved; 12,000 dogs have received free vaccines; and over 500 dogs have undergone low-cost surgeries in the on-site, dedicated veterinary clinic.


Despite the (hopefully) impending return to post-pandemic normalcy, there are solutions for caring for a pet while returning to in-person work, and the research shows that pets are beneficial for physical and emotional wellness. Even in post- pandemic life, pets can provide companionship, routine, exercise, and stress relief, contributing to overall happiness and wellness.


To learn more about the incredible work at Gigi’s, or to make a donation in support of their mission, visit gigis.org.

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