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Updated: December 1, 2009 13:43 IST

Pets can help humans tide over adversities, mental illness

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FRIEND AND DOCTOR: A Springer Spaniel enjoys attention. A cutting edge study says pets can help humans fight mental illness and stress. File photo
AP FRIEND AND DOCTOR: A Springer Spaniel enjoys attention. A cutting edge study says pets can help humans fight mental illness and stress. File photo

Anyone who keeps a pet knows the immense joy and comfort that it can provide, especially in troubled times. A growing body of research now documents the value of the human-animal bond in child development, elderly care, mental illness, physical impairment, dementia, abuse and trauma recovery.

Froma Walsh, professor emeritus and joint director, Centre for Family Health, University of Chicago (U-C), reviews and distils the essence of this cutting-edge research.

She examines how a bond with a pet can strengthen human resilience through crisis, persistent adversity and disruptive transitions, such as relocation, divorce, widowhood, and adoption.

The well-being and healing that a pet can provide include a range of relational benefits, from stress reduction and playfulness to loyal companionship, affection, comfort, security and unconditional love.

Pets also can be drawn into couple and family conflict. Women often do not leave abusive partners because of threats of abuse to a beloved pet.

"The powerful meaning and significance of companion animals is underestimated," says the researcher.

Mental health professionals rarely consider these bonds in clinical assessment and intervention, with focus limited to human relationships, says a U-C release.

Profound attachments with pets - and grief in their loss - are often marginalised, seen as abnormal, or altogether ignored in theory, training, and practice. These two studies were published in the Family Process.

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