Dog owners have long recognized the emotional and psychological health benefits afforded by the companionship of dogs. Pet ownership reduces loneliness, fights depression and helps reduce stress.
Modern science not only recognizes the psychological benefits of pet ownership, but also physical health benefits provided by the companionship of dogs. Numerous studies have found that dogs can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, increase survival rates after serious illness, boost immunity and improve overall health. The Centers for Disease Control acknowledges on its website that "pets can decrease: blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness."
Research has shown that children who grow up with dogs in their home are less likely to develop allergies or asthma and have overall stronger immunity as compared to children who are not exposed to pets.
Anyone who has lived with a dog understands that research and studies can't capture the intangible benefits of living with dogs – the joy, laughter and unconditional love we receive from our most constant companions.
While the function of most dogs in our society is as companions, dogs also perform work that benefits society in many ways: search and rescue dogs, police dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs, guide dogs, bomb detection dogs, drug detection dogs, cadaver dogs, and dogs that participate in children's reading programs.
In the United States, there are more than 78 million dogs: one dog for every four people. Approximately 40% of American households contain at least one dog; and almost half of those dog owners report that they consider their dog to be a member of the family.
So far as we know, humans and dogs have lived with each other since the very beginning of "dog." Dogs are the first domesticated animal; and the fossil remains of dogs have only been found in the vicinity of human settlements. Experts differ as to when the domestic dog (canis lupus familiaris) evolved. Archeologists have identified dog remains dating at least 15,000 years before the present. Estimates based on the time required for genetic variation push the date back to 40,000 years ago, though it remains to be seen whether new discoveries of fossil remains will confirm those estimates. Whether they've been with us for 15,000 years or 40,000, they have been domesticated longer than any other animals.
Dogs have always lived with or near human beings. Whether they resided inside human dwellings has always been a function of culture and custom. In some cultures, dogs enjoying strong bonds with one or more persons, have hunted, herded or guarded while living near their owner, rather than in the owner's dwelling. Other people, Australian Aborigines, for example, have traditionally shared both food and bedding with their dogs.
Whether a dog lives inside a dwelling, not every dog owner affords his dogs the same quality of care. NCRC defines resident dogs as dogs, whether confined within a dwelling or otherwise, whose owners maintain them in ways that isolate them from regular, positive human interactions. The isolation and lack of exposure to the family unit results in the display of behaviors different from family dogs. Family dogs are dogs whose owners keep them in or near the home and also integrate them into the family unit, so that the dogs learn appropriate behavior through interaction with humans on a regular basis in positive and humane ways.
Responsible pet owners honor their obligations to their pet, as well as to their fellow humans and their pets. Each community should establish its own achievable standards of acceptable pet owner behavior, and then write a pet owner ordinance around those standards. For example, Calgary, Alberta enacted a Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw consisting of five principles: 1. License and provide permanent identification; 2. Spay and neuter (Calgary does not mandate spaying and neutering; but it does require a higher license fee for an intact cat or dog than for an altered cat or dog); 3. Provide training/socialization, proper diet/medical care; 4. Do not allow a pet to become a threat or a nuisance; and 5. Procure your pet ethically and from a credible source.
While the human-canine bond is strong, it still faces many challenges: animal cruelty, miscommunication between the species, breed-specific legislation, pet limits laws, weight restrictions, and other mandates and legislation that create barriers to responsible pet ownership. Laws that focus on punishment of dogs or specific breeds of dogs do nothing to change owner behavior. All of us who love dogs – whether we live with them, raise them, train them, use them for a purpose – recognize the value of dogs in our society. To overcome the challenges that take attention away from the abiding value of the humane-canine bond, we must put aside any differences we may have among us and insist on the humane care (including proper diet, veterinary care, socialization and training), custody (including licensing and microchipping), and control (not allowing dogs to become a threat or nuisance in the community) of all dogs. It's time we return the favor and become dog's best friend. The future of the human-canine bond depends on us.
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