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The Unexpected Benefits of Pets

By Julia Williams

When asked to name the benefits that pets provide, common answers include things like unconditional love and acceptance, companionship, laughter, happiness and fun. Pets offer numerous health benefits as well, including reducing stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, encouraging us to get more exercise, and helping us cope with pain. Although most of us don’t adopt a dog or cat thinking they might save our life one day, many do just that! Stories abound of hero dogs and hero cats who alerted their owners to fires, gas leaks, venomous snakes, marauding bears, cancer and other dangers. I should think that for all of us, having our life saved by a pet would certainly qualify as an unexpected – but much appreciated – benefit.

A diabetic scientist discovered by accident that his dog was able to detect low blood sugar. The dog alerted him before he suffered a seizure, which led the scientist to form an organization that trains diabetic alert dogs. Another unexpected benefit many pets provide their owner is teaching important life lessons that we didn’t even know we needed to learn, such as how to be more tolerant, patient or trusting of others. Sometimes, pets teach us how to open our hearts just by providing a safe and loving presence. They show us how to slow down, live in the moment and savor even the smallest pleasures life has to offer. All great things to be sure, but not usually things we expect from our pets!

Years ago I experienced an unexpected benefit from a pet that I’ll never forget. It wasn’t even my pet, but it was a great help to me nonetheless. I was renting a country cottage that sat on several acres in Northern California. As a longtime gardener, it was the perfect place for me. I created my own private paradise with a large vegetable patch, a beautiful rose garden and several flower gardens. I built raised beds because the gophers who called this field “home” had no respect for my garden (imagine that!).

The landlord’s house was also on the property, and they had two dogs. The dogs viewed the field as an extension of their territory, and quite often I’d see them patrolling it. I’d also see the small dog furiously digging holes out in the field. Terriers are known to be fond of digging, and Pepper was true to her breed. She never dug holes near my garden though, so her digging didn’t really bother me.

One day after work I went out to check on my garden. I gasped at the horrific scene before me. Pepper must’ve gotten bored with digging in the field, because she’d gotten into one of the raised beds. My beautiful flower garden was completely destroyed! I love plants and always try to take great care of them, and it was devastating to see the garden in ruins.

When the shock wore off, I had an epic temper tantrum. I kicked the side of the raised bed, stomped the ground and punched the air with my fists. I screamed so loud it’s a wonder someone from the main house didn’t come down to see if I was getting killed. The rage poured out of me like water out of a hose. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, I crumpled to the ground and began to sob.

I laid there crying for a long time, and when the last tear had fallen onto my dead flowers, I had a revelation. The little dog who loved to dig was not to be hated, but profusely thanked. Why? Because she had done for me, what I could not do for myself.

You see, like many people I often bottle up the anger, sadness and frustration that comes as a package deal with life. If left to fester, these negative emotions would wreak havoc on my body and my spirit in one way or another. Pepper gave me an outlet, a way to let all of these negative emotions out. My slate was clean.

I’m convinced that pets have a sixth sense, and they just “know” when things need to be done to help us. Moreover, they don’t hesitate to do them! There may be many joys of having pets in our lives, but the unexpected benefits are perhaps the most wonderful of them all. What unexpected benefits have you experienced with your pet? 

'Cat and Dog' photo by Mathieu Struck
'Digging Dog' photo by Stacey Shintani

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