Get a pet – it’s good for your health

A handsome smile from a very good boy available for adoption at the Cullman County Animal Shelter (Amy Leonard for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Not only do pets provide their owners with unconditional love and loyal companionship, but they are also beneficial to our mental and physical health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, reports pets have the power to decrease stress and improve cardiac health. Additionally, children are aided in emotional development and social skills when caring for pets. 

Scientists are researching the wide impacts of human relationships with the animal world with topics ranging from a pet’s influence on child development and how pets influence children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other diagnoses.  

“There’s not one answer about how a pet can help somebody with a specific condition,” Dr. Layla Esposito, of NIH’s Human-Animal Interaction Research Program explained. “Is your goal to increase physical activity? Then you might benefit from owning a dog. You have to walk a dog several times a day and you’re going to increase physical activity. If your goal is reducing stress, sometimes watching fish swim can result in a feeling of calmness. So there’s no one type fits all.” 

Petting and caring for pets has been proven to decrease cortisol levels. Increased cortisol, a stress-related hormone, is linked to heart disease, and interacting with pets has been shown to reduce blood pressure. 

Pets provide companionship and serve as a source of comfort and reduced loneliness for many. They are also excellent teachers. 

Reba is available for adoption at the Cullman County Animal Shelter (Amy Leonard for The Cullman Tribune)

“Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving,” said Dr. Ann Berger, an NIH physician and researcher. “Their attention is focused on the person all the time. The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion and awareness. All of those things are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do this innately.” 

Canines have also been found to be helpful in the classroom, helping students with ADHD and autism. Students who read to animals are shown to have improved social skills and exhibit more behaviors indicating compassion such as cooperation, sharing and volunteering. 

Health benefits to owning a pet include: 

  • Exercise opportunities that can lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels 
  • Increased Vitamin D 
  • Socialization opportunities 
  • Decreased feelings of isolation 
  • Decreased anxiety 

Important topics to consider before adopting a pet include: 

  • Pet’s life expectancy 
  • Cost of food and veterinary care 
  • Pet’s exercise requirements 
  • Pet’s full-grown size 
  • Time requirements 
  • Child training on how to behave with pets 
This young boy and his four brothers are at the Cullman County Animal Shelter (Amy Leonard for The Cullman Tribune)

When the time comes for you to welcome a new member of your family, visit the Cullman County Animal Shelter, where many dogs and cats are anxiously awaiting a family to call their own. On a one-hour visit to the shelter this week, a certain reporter found dogs of all shapes, sizes and temperaments that would be lovely additions to homes. Additionally, five kittens with big eyes and even bigger whiskers are awaiting adoption. For more information, go to, call 256-734-5448 or visit in person at 935 Convent Road NE. The shelter is open from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. 

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