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Woofstock and The Case for Living with Pets


If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans. – James Herriot

Come June and it is Woofstock time again in Toronto. For years my husband and I had been considering adding a dog to our family. But busy careers and constant travel and mobility kept us in a state of suspended animation for much longer than I care to remember.

However every year, we were unanimous in our mutual agreement to visit the Woofstock festival and pretend for a space of time that all the dogs there belonged to us!

This year, we took our little Ginger out on her first outing to meet other waggy tailed people of her ilk. Our earliest observation of her behaviour towards other dogs is that she did not care much for canine attention. Especially when inquisitive little dogs snuffled her ears and were generally annoying to her. She is her own little person with a royal identity of her own.

I knew from my experience of walking her last summer, that she was terrific for my waistline as I dropped two clothes sizes in a few short weeks and have been looking forward to shedding my store of winter pounds as quickly as I could. Little did I know that Ginger could help our health in other ways too!

Last Summer, Ginger adored Othello, who was a large gentle greyhound three times her size until he died recently. It was a sight to see her barking delightedly when he loomed over her horizon, her tail wagging furiously in welcome.

Her best friend these days is Rascal, a little terrier who has a similar temperament to hers and beyond an initial acknowledgement, proceeds to completely ignore her and go about his own business. Consequently he does not bother her with unwanted attentions, and she cannot wait to run up to him and greet him. One cursory nose to nose greeting and they are happy company together, exploring the pathways and sniffing up the latest in doggy news,  each marching to the beat of his/her own drummer.

At Woofstock, on a cool Sunday afternoon, were crowds of dog lovers walking dogs of every breed, shape , size and colour. Also since they were of varying temperaments, we were a tiny bit apprehensive of how Ginger might react.

However we had no cause to worry as Ginger conducted herself impeccably, and remained sweet tempered throughout the afternoon, posing graciously for pictures when strangers begged for one, and generally keeping her cool as she surveyed the pandemonium of dogs frolicking  at the fountain, with a  calm undisturbed demeanor.

One of the Pet stand owners we were chatting with told us some truly astounding facts about living with dogs and animals in general.

1. Pet owners live longer according to research- whether they are healthy or at risk – regardless of the status of their health, living with a pet appears to contribute to longevity. Heart attack patients who lived with pets (other than dogs) were 4 times more likely to survive an attack, and those living with dogs are 8 times more likely to be alive after suffering a heart attack.

2. Owning a pet can significantly lower blood pressure up to the  point where they are no longer dependent on medication.

3. Living with pets increase levels of  hormones that contribute to well being like beta endorphin and dopamine. Clinically depressed people do better if paired up with a canine companion.

4. Having pets around you – whether playing around the house or lying quietly at your feet, decrease levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.

5. Aging pet owners report better health overall, probably because of all the dog walking. They are in significantly better physical condition than  those in their same age group who did not have pets. They have lower cholesterol levels,  have less incidence of insomnia and visit doctors less frequently.

6. The presence of pet companions improves our mental acuity with complex  problem solving situations- mathematical and logical.

The theory goes, according to Dr. Erika Friedman and Dr. James Lynch, that one of the stressors in modern life is the physiology of exclusion – what isolates us from social interaction . Modern technology, big city living, and the need for privacy in an ever encroaching interaction, causes many of us to lead relatively isoltaed lives.

Pets re-establish the physiology of inclusion with their own inimitable form of unconditional love, their enthusiastic welcome each time we return to them and their need for touch and cuddling.  Both human and pet benefit  when sroked or stroking.

In fact when we cannot look after pawed or feathered friends, we can always bond with a fish who enjoy looking at us as much as we do them. Just watching them can lower stress levels and increase creative ideas. These gentle non demanding companions ask for nothing more than a little interaction from time to time and are otherwise content to exist calmly in your space.

Whether true or not, our annual visits to Woofstock is more our need to connect with other animal lovers and for a space of time Toronto is turned into Paradise regained. What are your thoughts about living with pets?

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