In my (Perry Jameson's) Sunday school class at St. John's Parish Church, we are discussing the differences between hospitality and entertaining. Hospitality is about spontaneous interactions with people, welcoming them into your life when and wherever it may happen. Entertaining is a planned event, requiring work before hand for a select group.
In one of the podcasts, we watched a pastor meet with the mayor of his town and asked how his congregation could help in the community. The mayor replied to just be a good neighbor like the Bible says: Love your neighbor as yourself. He realized he personally did not even know the names of the people most of us consider neighbors, those living next door. How can I love my neighbor when I do not even know his or her name?
He then discussed various ways to go and meet your neighbors. As all pet parents know, walking your dog is a great way to do this. They immediately spark conversation and, if you are like me, you love talking about your pets as well. I realize when I share stories of the pets I currently have or even those from my past, the memories make me feel good.
When I was single, I would walk my dog Flipper along The Battery. Being a Charleston Animal Society dog, he is a mix of hound and who knows what. So I was stopped frequently to talk about what type of dog he was. This sparked conversations that otherwise would not have occurred.
This column is usually about what you can do to help your pet live a long and healthy life. More and more research, however, is revealing that by interacting with pets, they can do the same for us in return.
Pet ownership has shown to promote a healthy lifestyle. It is so easy to be sedentary with all the TV shows, computer games and phone apps to keep us on the couch. Pets prompt you to get up and move. Studies have shown dog owners are more active than those who do not have a dog at home. Taking a dog for a walk, playing outside or with a Frisbee are ways to be active without even realizing it.
Lower blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol have been consistently found in pet parents compared to the general population. Patients recovering from heart attacks have been found to survive longer when a pet was part of their home.
Pets also have been shown to help humans handle stress better. I know when I get home after a stressful day nothing is more relaxing than when my big orange cat, Ollie, plops himself on my lap. The vibration of his constant, low purr and the feel of my hand stroking the fur on his back are so relaxing. I can feel my blood pressure drop and tension from the day decrease.
When children are exposed to dogs, cats and farm animals, this appears to have positive long-term benefits on their developing immune systems. These children are less likely to develop asthma and allergies. They also have a stronger immune response to infections.
Pets also help with children’s emotional development. Feeding and caring for them teaches responsibility, compassion and empathy. For many of us, the loss of a pet is how we first learn to deal with the inevitable loss of family members.
Pets can benefit us at all stages of life. Those 65 and older with pets make 30 percent fewer trips to the doctor. Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in their home. Pets also have been shown to reduce the stress levels of the caregivers.
So by sharing your life and home with a pet and taking care of their health, you are actually improving your own.