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HEALTH FIles

Why pets matter: An anchor at home

Whether you’re a dog person, cat person, no-pet person, have a whole barnyard or only grudgingly take care of your child’s hamster and beta fish, you know that here in the United States, humans aren’t the only species inhabiting the home. It can be fun to visit with the horses living in the backyard, and it’s always nice to cuddle with your furry companion on the couch, but do other species help make our homes not only happier, but healthier?

Sy Montgomery, local author and animal-lover/expert from Hancock, says absolutely yes. Montgomery, who not only studies animals but lives with them in her home, pointed to the numerous studies showing how humans benefit from their pets. For instance, a 2002 study by the American Medical Association suggests that children who are exposed to animals in the home during the first year of their lives may be less likely to develop a pet allergy. In a 2006 Scientific American article, author Leslie A. Lyons explains that having cats around can be helpful when nursing a broken bone or combatting osteoporosis: Cats generally purr at a frequency between 25 and 150 hertz — sound frequencies that researchers have found help knit bones and improve bone density. Montgomery also mentioned the findings of a 2009 study funded by the National Institutes of Health, where researchers saw a correlation between pet ownership and recovery from a heart attack. Out of a group of 421 subjects, those who owned dogs were significantly more likely to be alive the next year in comparison to those who did not have a pet. And in another study, results show animals help reduce the blood pressure, heart rates and stress of their owners.

In acknowledging the physical health benefits of animals, Montgomery relates a period of time when two of her beloved pets, Christopher Hogwood, a 750 pound pig she had for 14 years, and Tess, a Border Collie she and her husband had adopted, passed away close to each other. “I was so sad and distressed that my hair was falling out, I was forgetting things.... I was really was going downhill and people were worried about me,” she says. During the first Christmas season without Christopher and Tess, some friends of Montgomery’s asked if she and her husband could dog-sit. They accepted, and Montgomery suddenly experienced a change. “Even though this dog looked and acted completely different from Tess, just having a dog around made me feel so much better,” she says. “She was an unexpected gift.”

Animals have been important for Montgomery throughout her life. The author found companionship in her pets growing up, since she was an only child. Montgomery treated her family’s Scottish terrier as a friend and sister, and she also had lizards, fish and sea horses that she took care of and played with. “I had turtles, too, that I used to bring into the bath with me,” she adds. “Don’t worry, though, I didn’t use soap with them!”

Years later, Montgomery continues her relationship with other species. She currently has a Border Collie, Sally, and eight chickens she gathers eggs from in her backyard. Montgomery interacts with her animals, not just as pets or livestock, but as fellow family members. During the interview, Montgomery pauses once or twice to speak with Sally, addressing her needs. To Montgomery, animals matter just as much as people do.

Perhaps for this reason, animals are a vital part of Montgomery’s household. “They make home even more important to me,” Montgomery says. In referencing the trips she takes all over the world for her books, she points out, “Home is my anchor, and a big part of that home is the animals.”

In speaking about the sense of place animals can add to human lives, Montgomery went beyond her own house to the world outside. “Animals anchor us all to the earth,” she says. “We live in a wider world filled with more than just humans, and animals add a depth of life that humans don’t have. Animals have more senses that we cannot know, but being near them, we can touch that experience.”

And that experience, it appears, can benefit us all.

To learn more about the way Montgomery interacts with animals and how she sees them as part of her family and home, take a look at her New York Times Best Seller, “The Good, Good Pig,” or visit her website: www.symontgomery.com.

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