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The Foster Factor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor   
June 2020

Furry friends are good medicine

OPix_PetTalk_6-20n a market run at the Miami Shores Publix back in 2019, I heard meows by the Starbucks kiosk. “A cat is stuck somewhere in this store,” I said out loud, as I looked around for the little fellow.

“That’s just Dave,” said a woman pushing a shopping cart past me, and there he was, safely inside a pet carrier, riding through the store among her groceries. “Dave is my emotional support cat.”

And with that, I began my first conversation with Renee Hancock, a friendly woman who is remarkably upbeat, despite unimaginable hardships the past two decades. In 2013 the Miami Herald wrote a feature about Hancock, who was described by others as a standout parent who was not “bitter and angry at life.”

In 2001, after giving birth to her son, Hancock was diagnosed with cervical and ovarian cancer. She suffered serious neck injuries in 2005, when a wrong-way drunk driver hit her car head-on. And for the past 11 years, renal cell carcinoma has been a part of her life.

Hancock has also endured dozens of surgeries and unemployment; but in 2017, a blessing came into her world: an orange tabby she named Dave, who was rescued during Hurricane Irma and is now about three years old. His presence helps her get through tough days.

A late April BT phone conversation with Hancock found her in pandemic lockdown in her Fort Lauderdale apartment, feeling quite ill but holding off on tests ordered by her oncologist. “I’m concerned and I don’t want to go to the hospital because it’s ground zero for COVID-19,” Hancock worried. “The hardest part is going through all of this alone. But that’s where Dave saves me. He gives me space when I need it. He gives me love when I need it. He reminds me that I’m needed, too.”

Science concurs the human health and emotional benefits of cats. A 2015 study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that simply watching cat videos increases positive emotions and energy while decreasing negative ones.

Dogs are just as positive. Dr. Caroline Kramer, assistant professor of endocrinology at the University of Toronto, is the lead author of a 2019 review, published by the American Heart Association, of decades of international research into the health benefits of having a pet dog. The bottom line of these observational studies (not random clinical trials) shows that owning a dog reduces dying of any cause by 24 percent. For people who have previously suffered a stroke or heart attack, their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is reduced by 31 percent.

Heart attack survivors who own dogs and live alone have a 33 percent lower risk of death than do people who do not own dogs. For stroke survivors owning dogs and living alone, the risk of death dropped 27 percent. Living alone forces dog owners to do all the dog walking, and exercise is key to preventing heart attacks and strokes.

According to the American Heart Association, other studies have shown the many benefits of dog ownership:

• People who walk their dogs get 30 minutes of additional exercise per day than those who do not.

• Dog owners have better cholesterol numbers.

• The act of petting a dog can lower blood pressure as much as prescribed medications.

• Owning a dog can reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.

Since March, when the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders began for most of the United States, animal shelters across the country have requested fostering and adoption on their social media sites as ways to help their staff stretched thin by social distancing measures, as well as to help families survive the isolation and loneliness.

Recently at Animal Care Centers of NYC, 2000 people applied for 200 available pet fostering slots. Dallas Animal Services has experienced a ten-fold increase in pets being fostered. This uptick in fostering is partly due to the need to offset isolation at home, but also that more people now have the time it takes to foster.

“Our community’s response to the needs of our shelter pets during the COVID-19 crisis has been amazing,” says Flora Beal, public information officer of Miami-Dade Animal Services. “Fostering reduces the number of pets physically at the shelter and helps us better manage this crisis and ensure all our pets receive the best possible care. Families gain a loving companion to help alleviate the stress of the crisis. It’s truly a win-win situation.”

Animal Services stats show in March, 200 dogs and 20 cats were fostered, compared to 87 dogs and 8 cats in March 2019. April 2020 new fosters were also up significantly from the year before. Recent efforts to educate the public about leaving kittens with their mothers in the wild as their best chance of survival has reduced kitten intake to the shelter by half.

 

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