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Huey and Tino

Therapeutic by Nature

For most of my life the love relationship between a dog and its human family was something I thought was dramatized by the likes of Hollywood.  Growing up I had a cat I loved dearly and when she passed in my freshman year of college, I was devastated.  She and I had a special relationship, the kind of connection that is hard to come by.  She saw me through my hardest years of adolescence by loving me unconditionally.  The pain of that loss was overwhelming.  I thought I would never love another animal like that again.  I was wrong. 

Fast forward 21 years later after my father passed away.  I did not want to be in life without my dad here by my side.  At the time, my twins were five years old and heartbroken over the loss of Papa too.  My sister, an avid animal lover, came across a lonely golden doodle 3-month-old puppy who had yet to find a home.  I had been wanting my kids to have the experience of having a pet growing up.  When our eyes met Huey’s, we knew he was to be part of our family.  The day I met Huey changed my life in a positive way forever, probably in ways I cannot comprehend.  Huey and his brother Tino (Tino would join our family six months later) remind me to stay in the present moment with love, patience, compassion, and forgiveness in my heart. 

I can personally testify to the health benefits of having pets.  Aside from the companionship offered by Huey and Tino for myself and my family, the health benefits of having them are extensive. For example, my commitment to my dogs’ health has brought me closer to nature.  Their necessary walks get me in the fresh air daily as I get to enjoy some time without the hustle and bustle of the world and instead notice the birds, bunnies, and other creatures along with the sounds and aromas of nature and sights of the beautiful clouds in our arching sky.  They also have provided wonderful opportunities to have quality talks with my children as we walk.

As a healthcare provider, I am passionate about exploring the benefits of understanding how our emotional, physiological, mental, and spiritual aspects are interrelated to achieve our fullest health potential.  While pets are commonly known to boost the mood, reduce loneliness, and bring more joy, there are physiological benefits as well.  The National Institute of Health recognizes that owning a pet likely improves cardiovascular system function and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Having pets in the home is also known to boost immune system health.  Just as we have an internal microbiome that requires balance to stay healthy, the microorganisms brought in our homes by pets balance our indoor microbiome thereby strengthening the immune system.  Our immune systems are strengthened by exposure to “good” bacteria.

In my integrative medicine clinic, Huey and Tino work as therapy dogs and they have become an integral part of our healing team.  The overwhelming majority of our clients look forward to visiting with Huey and Tino, bringing the patients joy, peace, laughter, and comfort.  Physiological benefits of therapy dogs in a healthcare setting include reducing the patient’s heart rate, slowing the heart rate, and calming anxiety.  In hospital settings, therapy dogs seem to have a positive effect on patients’ pain levels.  In staff break rooms, therapy dogs are known to reduce stress.

Having pets as companions which may ultimately lead to health benefits may not be for everyone.  Pets require care and nurturing both physically and emotionally.  Pets are also correlated with an increased risk of falling and can be expensive.  Still, Hollywood got this one right.  I would not trade my time with Huey and Tino at home, or at the clinic, for anything! 

Dr. April Schulte-Barclay: PhD Chinese Medicine, Clinic Director - Healing Horizons, Author and educational speaker.

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