Humans and animals – a beneficial bond

At the time of writing the investigation is ongoing into the tragic loss of Jagger soon after attending Crufts.

It is yet to be discovered exactly what happened, but what is certain is the emotional distress caused to the owners, and in particular their nine-year-old son. Jagger may have been a successful show dog, but he was also a best friend and confidante, a very hard act to follow.

Non-animal owners may find it difficult to understand the relationship between man and beast, but as evidenced by cave paintings, humans have interacted with animals for tens of thousands of years. This mutually beneficial bond connects people and animals in ways that are essential to health and wellbeing.

One result of this bond, is the production of a wholesome and sustainable food source. Farming is not an occupation suitable to all, requiring both skill and empathy in the care of one’s stock, however commercial the enterprise, to reap the benefits.

More familiar is the bond between humans and companion and working animals.

Pets are good for us – they give us a companion and unconditional love. Providing pet care encourages people to interact and get out for exercise, which they may otherwise not do.

There are proven health benefits to pet ownership, such as reduced stress levels, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and better mental health. Pets teach children responsibility and are a wonderful antidote to loneliness, especially for the elderly.

Then there are therapy dogs, technically working dogs but pets nonetheless, who revolutionise their owner’s life.

Dogs can detect oncoming fits and hypoglycaemic episodes. Guide dogs and hearing dogs are well known, perhaps less so are assistance dogs that can help wash clothes, answer the phone and do other daily tasks. These dogs have been highlighted recently as Hounds for Heroes, helping in the physical and mental rehabilitation of injured service personnel.

Horses are also used in therapy, especially for disabled riders, to encourage confidence, balance and coordination. Many participants say the only time they feel true freedom is when astride their equine friend. It is as if the horse can feel that the rider needs extra care.

Assessing how the human-animal bond functions is part of every consultation, be it on the farm, in the stable, or in the consulting room. So, when you’re talking, we’re listening.

By JANE BARWICK-NESBIT,

Director