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Hairy Caregivers

Hairy Caregivers

Many of us know first hand that pets are capable of loving us through tragedy, health crisis, loss, and pain, but it’s fascinating to learn that science and research are beginning to cite data that backs us our knowledge regarding the power of a pets love. Studies have found that pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners; widows who have cats show better health during their first year, which is a critical stress time, than widows who do not; the simple act of holding an animal decreases surgical patients’ healing times; and finally, the long-term survival rates of heart attack victims who have a pet are significantly longer than for those who did not.

Last year my husband, James, and I held a testing clinic on National Hepatitis Testing Day in Colorado Springs. We had 2 positives that day. One a burly veteran who cried as he heard his status, a grown man, who had been in the military, lived overseas, been through a divorce and yet sometimes a negative health report is more than any person can or should have to bear alone, and yet here he was all alone.

Our Pets Can Be Part of Our Supoprt System

We asked if he had support. I always ask this question carefully….casually, hopefully in a way that doesn’t add yet more pain to the individual who has to answer that “No, I don’t have a support person.”  It’s not uncommon in the hepatitis C realm to be completely alone. Fortunately, I had James. He is and was equal to an entire community and yet I remember telling my Dad my status and having him say something about needing to find his car keys…”this darn apartment is so small I can never find anything”. To this day, my Dad’s refusal to even acknowledge or talk about my situation hurts.

The man who tested positive that day thought for a minute and said, “I know this sounds crazy but I have my dog“. Not crazy at all, and although it hurt us to know our client didn’t have a human network of support, we understood that dogs can provide incredible support during times of depression and stress.

Pets Can Be Beneficial to Our Health

Rebecca Johnson, a nurse at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction has been focusing on the fact that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin. “That is very beneficial for us,” says Johnson. “Oxytocin helps us feel happy and trusting,” Johnson says it may also have longer-term human health benefits. “Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us to heal, grow new cells, and prepare our own bodies to be healthier.”1

A dog’s sense of smell is approximately one million times more sensitive than ours. Apparently, some dogs can even smell cancer, our changing metabolism before a seizure, anxiety, and fear. This doesn’t include their sense of feelings and emotions. I have a son in the military that keeps me anxious and, at times, depressed. It seems every time I am having a particularly hard day of missing my Marine, my Chihuahua will come and lick my eyes, even when I am not crying. It’s amazing and touching.

As I was writing this article I asked some friends in the hep C community if they would mind sharing pictures of their furry caregivers. After just a few hours received tons of heartwarming stories and pictures. I hope you enjoy and are encouraged by these pictures our most loyal caregivers. Have you been healed, supported or loved through a crisis? Please share your picture and story.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Dog Good. The latest on the biology of the human-animal bond. Psychology Today. May 5, 2010. Available at: