The unconditional love of animals leads to less stress

Samantha Ickes

Suzanne Holt, director of women’s studies at Kent State, received her first dog at 10 years old, after she and her sister boycotted Christmas and birthdays until their parents agreed to get them one. For Holt, the dog was love at first sight.

“I just immediately found something in that dog that was the equivalent of an angel to me,” Holt said. “It just seemed to be from somewhere else.”

According to Ian Cook, director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, pets offer an unconditional love that can help reduce depression, anxiety and stress.

When Holt graduated college in the ’80s, she adopted her first dog. Since then, she has owned at least one dog at a given time. Today, she has three: Ruthy, Wabbit and Themla. Holt adopted the dogs about a year apart from each other from local dog shelters.

“When I arrive home on any given day — it could be a great day or the worst day of my life — there’s simply no question that I’ll encounter a little dose of pure energy and delight,” Holt said.

The reliability of her dogs helps Holt relieve stress. No matter what type of day she has had, she knows she will open her front door to three friendly dogs eager to greet her.

“Even if you’re in a horrible mood … when you encounter a little set of lives that are looking to you to, kind of, match their joy, it kind of brings out the best in you,” Holt said.

When Holt looks at her dogs, she sees pure happiness and simple joy in being alive. They show her a simplicity she believes helps her reduce stress and live an overall healthier lifestyle.

“Everything that they do, they seem to just really dig it,” Holt said. “Why do I want to be miserable if they can make a big, happy deal out of a dog biscuit?”

Holt believes the stress and complications humans put into their lives are, in part, their own doing. Pets, like Holt’s dogs, show humans to take a step back and enjoy the little moments of life away from the interior noise that sitting with a laptop, tablet or cellphone can cause.

Holt said nature as a whole has the capacity to breathe life back into humans after a stressful day.

“Being in the presence of nature is one simple way .. .to exit your human state,” Holt said.

Today, Holt can’t imagine life without her dogs. She’s become accustomed to being greeted at the door by them, and knowing her existence matters to these small creatures so much gives her reassurance.

According to a study conducted by Georgia State University, Idaho State University and Savannah College of Art and Design, 60 percent of students reported a decrease in anxiety and loneliness after receiving animal therapy.

Ron Schwartz, dog adoption counselor at the Portage County Animal Protective League, said Portage APL typically does not allow college students to adopt animals. He said in the past, Portage APL has had difficulty with students adopting pets, specifically dogs.

Schwartz said a fraternity once adopted a dog and left the dog alone over the summer, strategically placing buckets of water and scattering dog food throughout the house. Though the students thought that was enough, Schwartz said the dog was taken into custody.

He also said foreign exchange students and international students often try to adopt animals while in the U.S. and then try to readmit them into the APL when they have to return to their home country.

However, APL does make exceptions to students living at home with their families and older students. The student must have approval by all roommates and the landlord in order to adopt.

Though animals can provide stress relief, Schwartz said owning an animal requires time and responsibility–something not all students have.

For students who cannot adopt their own animal, Dogs On Campus Therapy Program brings dogs onto campus for stress relief. Dogs On Campus have been on campus for more than 10 semesters with the goal of “uplifting the spirits of homesick college students who miss their pets,” according to the Dogs On Campus website.

Kathleen Adamle, a professor in the College of Nursing who founded the program, said, on the therapy program’s webpage, that “the visits with the therapy dogs don’t necessarily make anything better for the students, but for that moment, it gives them something to be happy about.”

Samantha Ickes is a features correspondent, contact her at [email protected]