We all love cute and furry animals — so much so that we domesticate them and bring them home with us as pets. Cats, dogs and other pets have become so commonplace in American homes that it almost seems odd to find a home without a pet. I’m no exception — we’ve got a furry four-legged family member, and our life wouldn’t be the same without him. The fact that they’re cuddly and sweet isn’t the only reason you should have a pet, though. Here are a few reasons you and your family should consider adding a pet to your life.
They Keep You Healthy
Dogs have a bad reputation for being dirty and stinky, and while it’s true they do tend to roll in the smelliest things they can find, having a dog in your home can be good for you. Research has shown dog owners, in particular, have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure and a lower risk for heart disease.
As a species, we’ve become obsessed with cleanliness. While this has solved some problems — like post-surgery infections resulting from dirty tools, as was common in the early 1900s — it has left us at a bit of a disadvantage. Our immune systems are like a muscle. The more bacteria and viruses they fight off, the stronger they become. Keeping a dog in your house introduces new variables your immune system needs to protect you from.
It’s not enough to make you sick, but it lets your white blood cells flex their muscles and becomes stronger. That way, the next time you encounter the common cold or something like it, they’re powerful enough to fend it off before it leaves you sniffling.
They Keep Kids Active
We all know childhood obesity is a problem — the number of obese children has nearly tripled since the 1970s. We don’t get outside as often as we used to. Technology lets us do everything we need from the comfort of our homes, but it means as a species, we’re getting fat and lazy.
You don’t have that option with a dog. They need to go out and play and burn off all that doggy energy, or they’ll find another way to entertain themselves — which usually involves chewing something they shouldn’t. My furbaby, a 9-year-old black lab mix we rescued years ago, went through more than a few pairs of shoes before I figured this little tidbit out.
Now, I can send my daughter out in our fenced yard with the dog, and they’ll run and play until they’re both exhausted. Or, I can hook him to a leash and take him out with me on my morning jog. He’s played an enormous role in keeping our family more active than we’ve been in years.
They Help Kids Form Connections
There’s a reason dogs are the first choice when training therapy animals. Yeah, they’re easy to fall in love with, but they’re also very calming and in tune with the emotions of those around them. They can even help children form bonds with others, which is invaluable for children on the autism spectrum. One study found autistic children who have trouble bonding with humans often find it easy to form a close connection with a dog. Ninety-four percent of the children involved in the study had bonded to their family pet, allowing them to share space with them and interacting with them during play.
Having a pet isn’t a foolproof method for helping these children learn to form new relationships, but it is an option and just one more reason to bring a furry friend home.
They Teach Responsibility
Are you having a hard time imparting the concept of responsibility to your little ones? You’re not alone — my older daughter is only 5, but she hasn’t quite managed to perfect that skill yet. One thing that has helped is our dog. Adding a dog to the family, and assigning your children dog-related chores like feeding and walking, can help turn that concept into something more tangible.
Now, I’m not saying to put your dog’s life into their hands — you can expect to step in to feed or walk your furry family member now and then. After a long day, if my daughter is exhausted and ready for bed as soon as we walk in the door, I don’t always enforce the “feed-the-dog-first” rule. After a while, you might not even need to remind them to take care of their four-legged friend.
They Can Protect Your Home
You don’t need to have an attack dog to benefit from bringing a furry friend home. An insurance company consulted some former burglars to find out what made them choose one house over another. Out of the top 10 burglary deterrents these ex-criminals listed, a barking dog was No. 2. You read that right — thieves will likely avoid your house if you’ve got a dog who likes to bark whenever someone comes to the door, even if they won’t attack an intruder.
You Can Change Their Lives
OK, this one is more for your furry friends than for your family, but hear me out. Adopting a dog, cat or any other pet from a rescue can change their lives. My furbaby was a guest at our local animal shelter for nearly two years before we decided to add a pet to our lives. He wasn’t a puppy, and his size — as a black lab mix, he’s a pretty big pup — was intimidating to a lot of people looking for a pet.
He was fortunate that our local shelter is a no-kill facility — they don’t euthanize animals unless it’s medically necessary — but many shelter animals aren’t as lucky. Millions of animals are euthanized every year while they wait and wish for their forever homes.
Add a Furry Family Member
In the immortal words of Colonel Jack O’Neill from the Stargate franchise, “We have a rule here on Earth. Every kid has got to have a dog.” I can’t imagine my life without at least one dog in it, but I get that dogs aren’t for everyone, and that’s all I’ve been talking about this whole time. You don’t necessarily need to get a dog, but if you decide to adopt a pet — whether you’re looking for a dog, a cat, a bird, a rabbit or a guinea pig — head to your local shelter and see who is waiting for their forever home. You can save a life and add a new family member in one fell swoop.
Dogs aren’t just good company — they can help keep you healthy, and help you shape your children into adults you’ll be proud of when they head out into the world.