Posted on: October 19, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Unless you have a pet, it’s sometimes hard to understand just what effect they have on us. They care for us just as much as we care for them, and their love is felt with every nuzzle or purr. This couldn’t be truer for Stella, the pitbull who helped her owner get back to her old self and bring a family back together [1].

How A Dog Helped Marika Cope With Cancer

Marika Hamilton Meeks was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, which put a tremendous strain on her and her family. Her daughter was having a difficult time dealing with her mother’s diagnosis, which caused their relationship to fracture and they began to pull apart.

After several tough years of cancer treatment, Marika was in remission but she found herself lost after having cancer run her life for so long.


“Here I am, stuck in the dichotomy of actually overcoming cancer but I was trapped in this really miserable space,” Marika states. 

As soon as they brought Stella home, a pitbull who had been abandoned in a vacant field in Fort Wayne, Indiana, there was an immediate change in Marika and her family. Through taking care of Stella, Marika was able to live in the moment again and she was filled with a new vigour for life [2].

Caring for Stella also brought Marika and her daughter together, and they were able to find that love that they had lost sight of.

Scientists Prove That Pets Change Our Lives

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Pets have incredible healing powers by doing nothing more than just being themselves and loving you. The bond created between pet and owner is symbiotic, we need each other.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, says that pets can provide social support for their owners, who tend to have better overall well-being than people without pets [3].


Several studies reviewed by the British Psychological Society found that dogs especially promote therapeutic and psychological well-being, particularly lowering stress levels and boosting self-esteem.

Pets have also been shown to improve relationships. A study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Science found that young adults with a deep bond to their pets felt more connected in their relationships and to their communities than those who did not have animals. Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, says that the same can be said for older adults.

Pets also have the incredible ability to save us from stress.  “A powerful neurochemical, oxytocin, is released when we look at our companion animal, which brings feelings of joy,” says Johnson. “It’s also accompanied by a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone.”[3]

Which People Benefit The Most from A Pet?

There are some of us who would benefit more than others by getting a pet. For example, anyone suffering from high cholesterol would benefit from getting a dog. Those daily walks are a great way to get in some low-impact exercise and keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check.


Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo also discovered that in people already taking medication for hypertension, their blood pressure response to stress was cut by half if they owned a cat or dog. Petting your pup or kitten can help lower your blood pressure while making them feel loved.

Having a pet also benefits those who suffer from chronic pain [3]. “Petting your animal releases endorphins—the same hormones that give a runner’s high—and they are powerful pain relievers,” says Johnson. “That’s been demonstrated in hospitalized patients who had a visit from an animal and reported less pain simply from one visit.”

Pets can also help those suffering from mental illness and emotional stress. Service dogs have been shown to be effective at helping those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder get back into the world. “One veteran couldn’t leave his home without his wife until we placed a dog with him and in less than a week he was able to go around his town,” Johnson says.

They have also been shown to be effective at helping those suffering from autism, by being able to recognize when they are in distress and recognize when they are going through breakdowns or having episodes.

Stella is just another example of how the love of an animal, and the love the animal gives back can heal us. To us, they’re part of our lives, but we are their whole world.

The Hearty Soul
Health Network
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