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Legal-Ease: An Attorney’s Perspective Can Your Pet Make You Healthier?

By April 24, 2020 May 11th, 2020 No Comments

Judd Matsunaga, Esq.

Fortunately, my Nisei parents, both in their early 90s, are still living independently in their own home. Although their Sansei children are out of the house, they brought two dogs into their home. No doubt, those dogs are part of the family. For example, last year’s Christmas cards contained a picture of them with their two dogs.

For years, my parents enjoyed their retirement life traveling. They didn’t have time for pets because they were never home. However, as they grew older and traveled less frequently, it was time to bring another dog into the house. Not a big dog like before, but a smaller dog that wouldn’t knock them over — thus, the crossbreed Labrador/Poodle dog, the Labradoodle.

When the first Cat Café opened in Japan in 2005, I didn’t get it. But now I do. Those cats provide relaxing companionship in what may otherwise be a stressful and lonesome urban life. I don’t think it’s possible to get a cat to purr if you’re all nervous, worried and stressed out. Petting a cat destresses you, just like those dogs provide relaxing, destressing companionship for both of my parents.

There is something in our human nature that is strengthened by feeling “needed.” Let’s take spouses, for example. Ever hear of the “widowhood effect”? Spouses take care of each other until the first dies. The “widowhood effect” is the increase in the probability of the widow or widower dying in a relatively short time after their longtime spouse has died (particularly within three months).

“Say Judd, do you have any scientific studies that show owning a pet increases longevity?” You bet. According to a new study published in Scientific Reports, owning a dog is linked to a longer life. The research, conducted of more than 3.4 million people, suggests that canine companions may be good for human health — especially for people who live alone.

Research found that dog owners had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than people who did not report owning a dog, as well as a lower risk of death from other causes. That was true even after adjusting for factors such as smoking, body mass index and socioeconomic status (https://time.com/5028171/health-benefits-owning-dog/).

Another study, published by Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Assn., says owning a dog is linked with living longer. Scientists found dog owners were likely to live longer than those who didn’t have dogs. According to the study, dog owners had a 24 percent risk reduction for death from any cause.

The study also found dog owners were less likely to die from heart disease compared with nonowners. Furthermore, living with a dog had an even greater benefit for people with heart problems. The potentially life-extending benefits of dog ownership could be traced in part to increased physical activity from walking the dog, authors speculated.

According to the American Heart Assn., it’s no surprise that people who walk their dogs are more likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity than those who don’t.

One study found that pet owners who walk their dogs got up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than nonwalkers.

Studies have shown pet ownership might help increase fitness levels, relieve stress, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as boost one’s overall happiness and well-being. Pets also provide social support, which is an important factor in helping you stick with new healthy habits (https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/).

“OK, what about cats?” Don’t get mad at me, but according to an article also published by the American Heart Assn., “No significant associations have been reported between physical activity and cat or other types of pet ownership. Of all pets, dogs appear most likely to positively influence the level of human physical activity” (https://www.ahahournals.org).

Studies show that dog owners engage in more physical activity and walking and are more likely to achieve the recommended level of physical activity than nonowners of dogs. For example, a survey of Japanese adults revealed that dog owners engaged in significantly more walking and physical activity than nonowners.

In conclusion, numerous studies have shown that pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk mainly due to the increased physical activity. However, welcoming a dog into the family is a big decision with big responsibilities.

Even if you live in a retirement setting that doesn’t allow for pets, or just want to play and cuddle a new loving companion during a visit, you will find there are neighborhood cat and dog cafés that are starting to show up all over town. For example, at CatCafe Kitten Lounge in West Los Angeles, you will literally be covered in a pile of adorable kittens!

If you love dogs, the Dog Café has opened in the Silverlake area where “you can play with pups as you grab your coffee fix, or catch up with friends over lattés, snuggling lap dogs.” And if you fall in love with one? You’re in luck — all dogs are rescues looking for their forever homes (however, you’ll have to wait for the Safer-at-Home order to be lifted).

Judd Matsunaga is the founding attorney of Elder Law Services of California, a law firm that specializes in Medi-Cal Planning, Estate Planning and Probate. He can be contacted at (310) 348-2995 or judd@elderlawcalifornia.com. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Pacific Citizen or constitute legal or tax advice and should not be treated as such.