Dog ownership: Good for the soul and the heart
Alaskans love their dogs. Now there's one more reason: a recently released study that dog owners may benefit by living longer.
Kate Daniel doesn't need proof.
She is proof.
Ten years ago, the environmental engineer from Anchorage was involved in life-threatening accident. She fell off the back of a four-wheeler at a high rate of speed. The result was a horrific laundry list of injuries that together don't seem survivable: broken ribs, a perforated liver, a ruptured stomach and spleen, a broken back, a collapsed lung, failing kidneys. Then fluid built up around the heart and she suffered a stroke and later aphasia.
Miraculously, she made it and when she finally returned home, it was her Great Dane Bella who was there to help pull her through.
"I actually wanted to get better because I wanted to get better for Bella and she was the reason I am still doing so much today," said Daniel, who was out walking with her mother Florence and new dog 18-month-old Maggie at the University Lake dog park in Anchorage.
Florence agreed. It was if Bella knew Kate had to be tended to differently.
"Where Bella used to jump up on her shoulders, Bella was just very gentle with her because she knew Kate had been broken," Florence said.
Bella became the alpha dog, going as far as playing protector. It was a while before she'd let Kate's father, Florence's husband, near Kate. Eventually she did.
Following Bella's passing, Kate got Maggie. While the two are different dogs in personality they have many similarities beginning with their hearts: they're both full of love.
"People like to be around dogs because they bring joy. They don't have any intention to do anything but bring incredible joy," said Kate.
But it's more than a happy feeling.
Dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduced risk of death and a 31% lower risk of death by heart attack or stroke compared to people who didn't have a dog, according to the recent American Heart Association study.
In a related research effort, study authors concluded owning a dog was associated with a 33% lower risk of death for heart attack survivors living alone and 27% reduced risk of death for stroke survivors living alone. According to the announcement from the AHA, the decreased risk was attributed to an increase in physical activity and lower rates of depression and loneliness.
"AHA recommended physical activity is 30-plus minutes a day," said Dr. Jacob Kelly, a cardiologist with Alaska Heart and Vascular Institute. "You're just more likely to do that if you own a dog. Even just going out to pick up Fido's poop or make sure they pee outside, you're getting a extra 50–100 steps so you're really working on your health just by doing regular routine activities."
According to Dr. Kelly there are plenty of factors.
"Being out in nature with your dog, with your family, that's what making you healthier, happier all around," he said. "It's metaphysical, it's physical, it's scientific, it's chemical. It's all those things together."
Something Kate Daniel knows to be true.
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