The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and their animals, influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has spent years studying the human-animal bond.
This bond is most evident in the relationship that forms between people and their pets.
“Think about the feelings you have when you come home to a pet that is excited to see you,” Darling said. “Pets are non-judgmental and provide unconditional love, meaning, and joy to our lives.”
The relationship pet owners form with their animals can be emotional, psychological, and physical, according to Darling. Pets can help decrease loneliness, relieve stress and anxiety, and provide opportunities for exercise, play, and recreation.
“Spending quality time and doing activities with your pets can strengthen your bond with them,” Darling said. “This may include going for walks, doing training classes, participating in shows and events, and doing animal-assisted activities.”
Though all pets can provide emotional support and love for their owners, dogs have a history of being used for therapy work.
“There are some special animals such as therapy dogs that are trained to provide unconditional love, affection, and comfort to groups of people,” Darling said.
Many cities have local organizations that focus on pet therapy work. In College Station, Aggieland Pets With A Purpose teaches people how to train their pets for therapy work and takes volunteers to visit places in the community.
Darling said therapy dogs can comfort people in hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospice, schools, and disaster areas.
“The dogs can help people accomplish goals in physical, occupational, and speech therapy,” she said. “People are excited to come to their therapy sessions when the dogs are present; I have seen people respond to therapy dogs when they have not responded to people.
“Residents at nursing homes anxiously wait in the lobby when our dogs visit,” she continued. “A college student studying for finals enjoys taking a break to visit with the dogs and relieve stress. Nursing staff at a hospital find a little relief from a busy day while petting a dog.”
Like therapy dogs, all pets can provide comfort, joy, emotional support, and more. They do not judge and are quick to forgive. They are always happy to spend time with you, whether playing or simply sitting in the same room.
“Think about how your pets enrich your life through your relationship with them and the activities you do together,” Darling said. “We provide them with care and love, and they share their unconditional love with us to brighten our days.”
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.