Can’t deal with stress? Get a dog

Why having a furry friend makes life so much better

KARACHI:  As recent as last year, I was drowning under stress from my final year thesis when my father decided to surprise me: he brought home a puppy; a very inquisitive and clingy one. From the looks of it, his previous foster home was perhaps not very kind since he looked weak and scared. My first thoughts were: how am I supposed to take care of him when I can barely handle myself during thesis. I won’t lie. I even cried a little bit.

Little did I know within a week’s time, my little furry friend, Ginger, would become my biggest support system. Just random cuddles with him would help me deal with stress and would alter my lifestyle as well. I became more active because I was so hands on with taking care of him, taking him for walks and looking after his every need. Every time I would look into his eyes, they would make me forget about every worry in the world. Yep, it may not have been love at first sight. But it was true love nonetheless.

Ginger trying to steal the spotlight at my mayoun

This got me thinking do dogs actually help release stress? Here’s what I found.

Last year, an article in the Huffington Post analysed as to what extent pet ownership impacts our mental health. They quoted a study called The Effects of Animals on Human Health and Well-Being which concluded that the evidence is largely supportive of the view that pets are good for us.

Sarim Imran, 17, a student from Karachi, says his dog has changed the environment in their house. “Mithu has brought our family closer together since we all share responsibility for him. He has made us a happier family, if that makes any sense at all,” he says.

Sarim’s dog Mithu is only three months old and loves to chill in bed

Another dog owner, Nikita Fernandes, 21, a student Monash University in Malaysia, also talks about the indescribable bond she has with her dogs. “My dogs bring out the best in me because they radiate so much positive energy. I can say, without a doubt, that they’ve taught me how to love,” she says. “My first dog, Brandy, helped me get over my temper issues,” Fernandes adds. “Whenever I was angry, he would just come and sit near my feet and follow me everywhere quietly. I would even shout at him sometimes as I wanted to be alone but he never left. Then he would roll over and do something silly like stick his tongue out and my anger would just vanish.”

Fernandes and her dog Brandy

Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Rubeena Kidwai says pets tend to have a calming effect on humans considering the sense of nurturing it requires. “Any kind of altruistic behaviour is known to have a positive impact on us. However, the scientific evidence regarding this connection is mixed. Some studies say yes, others say no,” she says.

She adds that it’s not just about having a pet but more about the relationship you have with your pet. “As far as dogs are concerned, there is always that factor that they offer unconditional love. They don’t retaliate or argue and keep you in the here and now,” she adds.

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