Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows the experience can have its, um, drawbacks. Dogs of our acquaintance have been known to shred rolls of toilet paper, gobble food off counters, bark furiously at squirrels and letter carriers, barf on rugs, whine to be walked no matter what the weather and require expensive, time-consuming visits to the veterinarian, sometimes after midnight.
But science has found a definite upside. Owning a dog, it seems, can enhance your health. A survey of research covering nearly 4 million people in the journal Circulation reached the conclusion that on average, keeping a canine companion reduces the overall risk of death by 24% and the chance of dying from cardiovascular disease by nearly a third. It all translates into longer lifespans -- giving new meaning to the term "dog years."
The experts at Circulation have some ideas to explain this phenomenon. "Several studies have shown that acquiring a dog perforce increases physical exercise (as anyone who has unsuccessfully tried to sleep past the time of a dog's routine morning walk can attest)," notes an editorial. It pushes people outdoors, and as your dad may have told you, fresh air never killed anyone.
Both purebreds and mutts also tend to "reduce anxiety and loneliness, increase self-esteem and improve overall mood," says Circulation. The overall effect is "large and sustained improvements in mental health." You can tell that to any friend who says you're insane to spend the cost of a used car on a Labrador retriever's gall bladder surgery.
It has long been known that dogs have evolved to gain the indulgence of humans, through adoring eyes, wagging tails and sheer enthusiasm. What our naive four-legged friends clearly do not realize is that we get the better of the deal. They deter burglars, quickly remove messes from the kitchen floor, provide warmth on winter nights and exhibit boundless faith in our fallible selves. All we have to do is provide for their every need.
If yours is not one of the 48 million American homes equipped with these mobile therapeutic devices, you can always visit the nearest animal shelter, which should have many adorable options. You can improve a dog's life while you're saving your own. Shelters also offer cats -- which independent research on the part of the Tribune Editorial Board indicates are a boon to the body and soul. Oh, and they don't bark.
Maybe adding a four-legged member to your household will add days to your life. It will certainly add life to your days.