Studies confirm what pet owners have known all along—pets provide people with more meaningful, purposeful lives and more life satisfaction and happiness. The research also backs the physical, emotional, mental and social health benefits provided by pets. Although the statistics provide important information in a cold, scientific format, all that research comes to warm, fuzzy life as Axl, the giant Bermese Mountain dog belonging to Dr. Karin Galliano of the Peace River Psychology Center, offers his paw to the center’s patients.
“You know, life is always entertaining,” Dr. Galliano said of the benefit of having pets.
Axl looks sort of like a teddy bear, and he works half the day assisting Dr. Galliano with her therapy sessions. Axl comforts patients who are grieving and he assists Dr. Galliano with treating phobia patients.
There are people who say, "'I have to see Axl’, so the appointment isn’t just with me, it’s with him, too.” Dr. Galliano said, “The delight is what my patients enjoy so much, because how can you not be in a good mood with such a beautiful animal? They like him a lot more than they like me a lot of times, and they are disappointed if he’s not here.”
Mary Toor, the “petspert” for Camp Bow Wow in Port Charlotte, cited studies that have shown obtaining a new dog helps improve mental and emotional health of people. “If a person suffering from depression got a new pup, they could begin to feel the unconditional love from their pup and have improved moods,” she said. “It would also help this person become more active again, which could help improve their mental health.”
A dog’s requirement for physical activity outside the home is what makes it the No. 1 choice when considering the positive human health impacts a pet can provide. While other types of pets can provide benefits such as emotional companionship, dogs keep people on a predictable schedule and draw their owners outside of the house. Dr. Galliano cited examples from a book titled “The end of Illness by Dr. David Agus.
“That is a distinction that Dr. Agus makes because he’s looking at the exercise and the social involvement,” Dr. Galliano said. “This doctor talks about the need to get a dog, as opposed to a cat, because of the social involvement. You meet people because you take your dog out on the leash, and you generally do not take your cat out on a leash. You get out into nature and you meet all kinds of people. Here in Charlotte County, people tend not to walk around, so you don’t know your neighbors. Since I got Axl, I know every neighbor in a 10-block radius. People will approach you and will talk to you. People will engage with you because they will remember you by your dog. For single people, I told my son to take Axl for a walk because he’s a great chick magnet.”
By Laura Tichy-Smith, Florida Weekly Correspondent
In Memory of Axl. Bowie, the Bernese Mountain Dog, now carries on Axl's legacy.