True love: Dogs and their humans

Daniel with his canine friend Smithers in Camperdown Rest Park. Photo: Maya Ophir-Verheyden

BY MAYA OPHIR-VERHEYDEN @mayaverheyden

There is definitely a unique bond between dogs and their humans. Human and canine alike appreciate the loyalty, unconditional love and acceptance this connection offers. We delight in their animated greetings, the warmth they bring us as we hold them and even enjoy being engulfed by water as they shake off, post-bath.

Interacting with dogs has therapeutic effects that can now be supported by more than just anecdotes from doting pet parents. A growing body of research from around the world has proven the physical, psychological and psychosocial benefits of the interaction between dogs and people.

“Dog ownership can address social isolation; the lack of connection between humans,” says Associate Professor Manos Stamatakis, from the Charles Perkins Centre at The University of Sydney.

The most obvious benefit of dog ownership is the necessity to walk them. “It’s the only time I exercise,” says Ruby, a university student who revels in her ‘dog mum’ status, and this is the case for many dog owners. In a society in which social interaction, careers and entertainment have been shifted to exist primarily online, a clear case can be made for the importance and impact that getting outside with your pet can make. Two out of three Australian adults are either overweight or obese. Regular walks can increase cardiovascular fitness and lower blood pressure, all for the price of a jubilant time with a furry friend.

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Owning a dog can inspire even the most introverted characters to spur conversation and often allows for the initiation of positive social experiences. Camperdown Rest Park is a popular space where dogs and their humans have gleeful encounters. One dog owner, Daniel, says the park is a perfect place to play with his “babies”- a boisterous Dalmatian named Smithers and a timid Shiatsu, Tillion.

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Human-canine connections or Animal Assisted Therapy can ease the isolation experienced by the elderly, sufferers of mental health issues and disabled people, crucial in a society that idealises the neurotypical and able-bodied.

Although not involved in a structured therapeutic method, Newtown vintage clothing shop assistant Kat knows firsthand the impact a dog can have on one’s mental state. “I was depressed and had really bad anxiety. I was like, ‘I need an animal, I need something to wake up to and love me’,” she says. Since finding Khaleesi, her little white Poodle/Maltese cross, Kat says her anxiety has disappeared.

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Research by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has found that the mere patting of a dog is accompanied by a decrease in blood pressure, and according to studies found at the University of Missouri-Columbia, patting prompts the release of the ‘feel good’ hormones, serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.

The added responsibility of caring for another life gives people in often dehumanising and depressing situations a reason to keep going, creating a bond simulating the type of unconditional love and affection we as humans need in order to survive.
Tenderness and support are at the centre of this mutually positive bond. Khaleesi joins Kat at work every day, weaving in and out of the clothes racks and greeting customers. Kat tells of the complete shift in her emotional well being after finding Khaleesi, giving the dog an appreciative hug. “I was so stressed out so i got her and she was just perfect. She’s my little soul mate.”

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