Did you know that compassion for others is good for your health? If you have a pet or are an animal lover, you'll be glad to know that this includes being kind to your furry, feathered, and scaled friends. Simply petting your dogs and cats and being kind to animals in the wild improves your mental and physical health, lowers anxiety and depression, helps you recover from illnesses faster, and increases your lifespan. Here are a few of the reasons why this compassion is so valuable.
1. Compassion Increases Happiness
I was rescued by two cats I rescued from an animal shelter a few years ago. After losing my father to Parkinson's Disease, these unwanted felines helped me find hope and resilience. Ziggy, a two-year-old boy, was on the kill list because it would be too expensive to extract his bad teeth. And Zoe was becoming “too old” to be adopted. After I'd walled myself off from the world, these playful friends showed me unconditional love, made me laugh, and made me feel like I wasn't alone. Can you identify?
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According to studies, spending 15 to 30 minutes of quality time with your pets can help you feel more relaxed. Playing with your dogs and cats boosts feel-good neurotransmitters (serotonin) that help balance mood and control the brain's pleasure centers (dopamine). Just watching reunions between dogs and their owners, and cats and their owners, demonstrates how much joy these pets can bring to our lives.
2. Compassion Improves Physical Well-Being
My friend Mary told me about how a middle-aged Golden Retriever saved her mother's life. Mary had given Andy to her mother to be her constant companion now that she was confined to her home, ailing from a condition she was unmotivated to improve. Andy gained a lot of weight over time. Her mother was so moved by the dog's plight that she forced herself to get up and walk him every day. It started with a few steps, then a few blocks, and now miles. Andy not only lost weight, but Mary's mother appears and feels ten years younger.
Having a dog encourages us to exercise more, which lowers our blood pressure and reduces our risk of developing heart disease. People who own dogs visit their doctor less frequently than those who do not own dogs. Having a cat also reduces the chances of dying from a heart attack. Loving our pets reduces stress, lowering our risk of contracting a slew of nasty diseases.
3. Compassion Improves Vitality and Lengthens Life
Playing and laughing with your dogs and cats can help boost your immune system and increase your energy levels throughout the day. “Numerous studies have shown that having pets helps lower our stress levels, decrease blood pressure, benefit our cholesterol, improve our mood, and boost our immunity – in other words, lengthen our life span,” says Mao Shing Ni, PhD.
According to other studies, volunteering predicts a longer and healthier life. Jung Myoung has been saving dogs from being eaten in South Korea, where they are considered a delicacy, for the past 26 years. She buys them from dog traders and is still going strong at the age of 61 despite adversity.
4. Compassion Provides Opportunities
Believing in your abilities improves your quality of life, especially if you are physically disabled. Kirsten Klindworth was in a wheelchair and couldn't ride her beloved Arabian horse Synbaadd (aka Cory). Kristin was able to ride Cory again and set her soul free after Francine Dismukes trained him to lie down so she could mount him.
Service dogs alleviate their owners' anxiety and depression, giving them hope for the future. There are even seeing-eye horses these days! Cuddles, the first documented case, is Dan Shaw's “best friend and guiding light.”
5. The Animals of Compassion Show Each other is motivating
Rademenes, a black cat in a Polish animal shelter, was scheduled for euthanasia but miraculously recovered from an upper respiratory infection. He now spends his days assisting in the rehabilitation of sick cats and dogs. Maggie, a mutt admitted to the AARCS shelter, heard new foster pups crying on their first night there and escaped from her kennel to sit next to their room and keep an eye on them. Hantu, a white German Shepherd, adopted Poncho, an orphaned baby opossum who rides on her back on a regular basis. Vali, a brown bear in a Budapest zoo, rescued a drowning crow. A fox is seen nursing BEAR cubs in a forest after their mother dies. In times of distress, elephants hug and comfort one another.
These are just a few examples of how many animals have this kind of compassion in their nature.
6. Animals' Compassion for Humans Is Inspiring
There are numerous stories about cats saving people's lives. A surveillance video, for example, showed a cat rescuing a four-year-old boy from a vicious unprovoked dog attack (that video has over 25 millionYouTube views).
A dolphin saved a teenager from drowning, a calf protected a woman from a snake, a gorilla saved a boy from being attacked by other gorillas in a zoo, and a pit bull saved a mother and her young son from being knifed by a man in a playground… The list continues.
7. Compassion Can Be Learned
In Russia, homeless cats and dogs die not only from hunger, cold, and accidents, but also in exorbitant numbers from beatings and beheadings by children who have not received adequate attention and love (many are orphans). Through the use of cartoons, the Big Hearts Foundation is reducing the incidence of animal cruelty by teaching children to develop empathy, love, and care for animals.
Kevin Richardson, a South African zoologist, hugs lions and shows how playful these cats can be in order to instill compassion in hunters and prevent them from slaughtering this dwindling precious wildlife.
8. Compassion Is Inborn
Marina the kitten and Laura the piglet bonded at the Interspecies Equality Sanctuary in Santiago, Chile, a farm animal refuge, after surviving extremely difficult starts in life. According to the sanctuary's owner, “Laura has formed a deep friendship with Marina the kitten, demonstrating by example that when it comes to friendship and respect, it doesn't matter what species one belongs to.”
And Lilica, a Brazilian superhero mutt, travels long distances to bring food to her chicken, cat, and dog friends in a junkyard. Neile Vnia Antônio, the junkyard owner, claims that “we human beings almost never share things with others.” It's a… life lesson for us for an animal to share with others.”
9. Compassion Makes Us Happy
I have to admit that while researching for this article, I was astounded by the sheer volume of stories I came across about animals showing concern and care for one another. We can do it if they can. And so we do.
An ordinary hero freed a Bighorn sheep he came across while jogging in the woods. Two good Samaritans rescued a stranded deer on an ice pond. Beachgoers assisted in the rescue of a Great White shark that had become stranded on the shore. Valentin Gruener saved the life of Sirga, a lioness cub abandoned by her pride. Every day, John Unger held his beloved dog Schoep in a lake to help relieve his pooch's arthritis pain.
Isn't it inspiring? So, why not shower some extra love and tenderness on an animal today? You don't have to go so far as to hug a lion, but you can spend more time with your pets. Let's be real. When we get caught up in our fast-paced, hectic world, it's easy to overlook them. However, they do not live as long as we do (usually), and our time together is valuable. Make the most of it. Empathy for animals not only improves your mood, reduces stress, and improves your health, but it also opens up your heart.
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