KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Not all Soldiers walk on two legs and carry a rifle. The U.S. Military has partnered with canine warriors in every conflict since the Revolutionary War. Chip, a canine sentry of the U.S. Army, was the most decorated dog in World War II. He served with the 3rd Infantry Division in countries like Italy and France and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart. Military Working Dogs here at Kirtland AFB also deploy around the world and many receive awards and recognition similar to Chip.
As a U.S. Army Veterinarian, I have the honor and privilege of caring for dogs like Chip. Each day I see evidence of the positive effects of human-animal bonds. These benefits are not limited only to the military, though. Recent research has shown very real physical and social-emotional benefits to owning a pet, and, in particular, a dog.
REDUCED RISK OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE
Research is being conducted all around the world demonstrating the positive effects of canine companions on our physical health. A 2017 study in Sweden compared rates of cardiovascular disease in dog-owning families and non-dog owning families. With over 3.4 million participants, the study showed a lower risk of cardiac-related deaths in families with dogs.
REDUCED BLOOD PRESSURE
A U.S. study recently published in the American Heart Association Journal, “Hypertension,” followed 48 people with high blood pressure who were given dogs. After six months, their blood pressure was significantly lower. Other studies show that dog owners have increased immune function and overall significantly fewer health problems. In general, dogs keep us physically active, keep us busy and give us companionship.
In addition to the physical and social aspects of the human-animal bond, animals have an important psychological impact on their owners. Pets help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Recent studies at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine examined the effects of service dog partnerships on the symptoms of combat trauma. The studies found that veterans with service dogs had significantly less depression, increased quality of life and higher social functioning.
The work of a program called Warrior Canine Connection has shown similar benefits but uses a different approach. In this program, wounded warriors with post-traumatic stress train dogs to become service animals. Training dogs helps recovering veterans cope with post-deployment challenges, and in the process, the veterans heal themselves.
Research by Canine Companions has shown that friendly interactions with dogs can release a powerful brain chemical that inspires a profound sense of attachment. This chemical reaction can also reduce fear and anxiety, and increase a sense of trust.
PETS HELP HUMANS CONNECT WITH OTHERS
In addition to physical benefits, animals help create human-to-human friendships and lead to increased social support. A survey conducted by the University of Western Australia, Harvard and Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition found that pet owners were 60% more likely than non-pet owners to get to know people in their neighborhoods. They also found that people who have solid social networks are 50% more likely to live longer than those with limited social networks.
In today’s society, especially with increased usage of social media and COVID isolation, many people have trouble making connections. Pets provide an incentive for people to get out of their homes and a means for them to connect with others over a mutual interest.
Dogs have been part of our society for thousands of years. Having a pet cannot only facilitate a healthy life-style but can also provide numerous other psychological and social benefits. While canine Soldiers, like Chip and the Kirtland AFB Military Working Dogs, help keep the country safe, our personal pets help keep us active and bring us together as a community.