When campgrounds and other warm-weather sites close down, winter can turn dreary in more ways than one. Spring may lie around the corner; but this trek through the woods seems impossibly long. For this series of blogs, we’re exploring ways to bring joy, light and that warm, fuzzy feeling into the coldest months. We’re kicking it off with a fun one: owning (or borrowing) a pet! If you have one, you can attest to the list below. If you don’t, and certain family members are requesting one for Christmas, this list might tip the odds in their favor.
- Less stress. Researchers found that people conducting a stressful task reported less stress when their pets were with them – and pets took down stress levels better than spouses, relatives and friends. “You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k)—but you'll never lose the unconditional love of your pet,” says Marty Becker, author of Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual.
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol…and thus fewer heart attacks. You may love your dog more than anything; it loves your heart right back!
- Better mood. Within half an hour of playing with your dog, you feel more relaxed and calm. The interaction raises your brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin, the natural “feel-good” chemicals.
- Built-in exercise. “This dog isn’t going to walk itself”…and that’s to your advantage! Between neighborhood strolls and playing fetch, dog walkers get plenty of movement, and ample chances to enjoy the winter sunshine…another mood booster. When the chill sends you and your pet sprinting outdoors, you can generate warmth and keep moving by giving your pet a rubdown with a warm towel. Hugs and wrestling may follow!
- Instant friend-maker. Dog parks, outdoor cafes and pet stores (and newer social networking websites like Dogster and Petpop) are a great way to meet and mingle. Animal Planet calls them “the common denominator that helps people connect.”
- Healthier, happier kids. Children who grow up with dogs in the family have fewer allergies, stronger immune systems, and less risk of both eczema and allergies. They also have an outlet for excess energy, a natural way to calm down, and a perfect opportunity to learn to care for others, responsibly.
- Stronger values. Dogs teach us more than we teach them. Think patience, commitment, affection, empathy, and all the virtues and values attached to caring for a pet.
Remember: Taking on a pet, particularly in winter, requires responsibility. (Yet another value for the list above!) You’ll want to avoid lighted candles, tape extension cords to the wall, and sweep your rug free of pine needles, ribbon and tinsel.