The Human-Animal Bond

By Dr. Dailey

Our human journey has always included animals, companion, livestock, and wild. Research has shown the first domesticated animals were not a food source but a companion, the wolf. It is postulated highly social wolves and highly social humans started walking, playing, and hunting together and never stopped. The dog is literally the wolf who stayed.

Evidence of the bonds between people and animals throughout the ages is easily found, such as literature, cave paintings, and archeological sites. The close relationship between animals and people date from the dawn of civilization. In Ancient Egypt, cat owners shaved their eyebrows when their cat died, signifying feline loss and mourning.

Many cave paintings throughout the world depict symbolic animal representation including Chauvet Cave, France, (32,00 years old), Goyet Cave, Belgium, (31,700 years old), Blombos Cave, South Africa, (20,000 years old), Grotte de Pigeons, Morocco, Stehul, Israel, Australia and probably the the most well known Lascaux Cave, France (17,000 years old). What intrigues many people about Lascaux Cave is the child’s footprints left in the mud and alongside them a paw print of the child’s dog!

Saint Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale recognized the health benefits animals provided. In understanding this bond, science has progressed from intuition-based thoughts, to anecdotal ideas and finally in the 1970’s, to evidence based research.

The animal human bond cannot be underestimated. This bond is extremely powerful, mutually beneficial, and affects our mental, social, and physiologic health. Our pets are valued members of our family, 62% of American households have a pet (47 million dogs and 41 million cats). Pets are good for us. Pets encourage touch, conversation, laughter, increase exercise, teach responsibility, nurture kindness, decrease blood pressure, and boost immunity. Pets can be better medicine than medicine.

Our animals are an antidote to loneliness, anxiety and depression. The therapeutic value of animals for socially isolated individuals in nursing homes, hospitals, hospice, and prison is documented. The one year survival rate after a heart attack is 94% among pet owners and 74% among non-pet owners. The aid and service working dogs provide is immeasurable and cannot be underestimated.

The unique ability to connect and care for animals enriches our quality of life. To create and sustain a strong bond the pet must be easy to live with, behaviorally. Problems such as aggression, barking, destructiveness can erode the human-bond. It is important to match the breed characteristics with the personality and life style of the owner.

This wonderful bond is everywhere, past, present, and future. Our lives are forever intertwined. We are fortunate to enjoy the companionship and unconditional love our dear pets bring every day.