In a recent piece for the New York Times, science and health writer Jane Brody describes the ways her life has changed since she decided to share it with her dog, Max II, a five-month-old Havanese puppy. Brody explains how she initially viewed Max as one who might help her combat the loneliness she's experienced since becoming a widow, not realizing just how effective her dog would be:
[Perhaps] the most interesting (and unpremeditated) benefit has been the scores of people I've met on the street, both with and without dogs, who stop to admire him and talk to me. Max has definitely increased my interpersonal contacts and enhanced my social life. People often thank me for letting them pet my dog. Max, in turn, showers them with affection.
According to Brody and to countless studies on the effects of dogs on health, sharing one's life with a dog opens that person up to a range of benefits, including "cardiovascular health, resistance to stress, social connectivity and enhanced longevity":
The researcher Erika Friedmann, whose groundbreaking study in 1980 showed that, other factors being equal, people with pets were more likely to be alive a year after discharge from a coronary care unit, said studies also have linked pet ownership to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides - even though owners drank more alcohol, ate more meat and weighed more than those without pets. Other studies have found that older people who walk dogs are more likely than those who walk with human companions to engage in regular exercise and be physically fit...
As a study published in 2007 in Society & Animals concluded, pets "ameliorate some determinants of mental health such as loneliness." In a survey of 339 residents of Western Australia, the researchers found pet ownership to be associated "with social interactions, favor exchanges, civic engagement, perceptions of neighborhood friendliness and sense of community."