A question I’m sometimes asked in my Life Coaching practice is: Are pets good for my health?” especially by people who didn’t grow up in cultures where animals were valued. The Bahá’í Writings give us some reasons to agree that they are, as you will see below.
The animal spirit is the power of all the senses (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 208)
Experts agree that in addition to affecting all of our senses, caring for a pet can be good for both your physical and mental health. An animal companion can be a loyal friend and a valuable member of your family, plus, pets provide companionship and unconditional love.
The bond that develops between a human and animal companion can be just as strong as the bond between two people, sometimes even stronger, since pets offer unconditional love.
A pet can bring fulfillment into the lives of those who might otherwise suffer from loneliness or depression. Dogs, specifically, provide a feeling of safety and help keep you active.
Mature adults, especially those who’ve lost a spouse, can find comfort and companionship in a pet. They often go through a period of feeling as if they’re no longer needed, but owning a pet can fill that need.
The Bahá’í Faith teaches:
Educate the children in their infancy in such a way that they may become exceedingly kind and merciful to the animals. If an animal is sick they should endeavor to cure it; if it is hungry, they should feed it; if it is thirsty, they should satisfy its thirst; if it is tired, they should give it rest. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 373)
Children who are shy can benefit greatly from having a pet. Animals can help draw a shy child out of their shell. There are many other benefits of having a pet for a child:
- A pet can be a good way to start a conversation and make friends.
- A family pet can boost a child’s self-esteem.
- Pets can give a child a sense of protection and security.
- Pets can help children cope with and overcome fears. For example, a child that’s afraid to go to sleep in his own room may adapt more easily if the family cat or dog is allowed to accompany them to bed.
- Pet ownership can help teach children about interaction, compassion and responsibility. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s recommendation that children be entrusted with pets, is to help them recognize that animals share the capacity for feelings with humans. Unlike humans, animals are unable to verbalize their emotions and appeal for just treatment. Their fate is determined by our good will and they depend on our care and protection.
“The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured, he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities…Therefore it is essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man.” (‘Abdul-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdul-Bahá, p. 159.)
Pets can keep you active. Dogs need regular exercise and their owners can reap the rewards of keeping fit and healthy in the process. Having a dog forces you to get up and go outside whether you want to or not.
Taking the dog for a nice leisurely walk is a great way to get moving, enjoy the outdoors, and get some fresh air. If you feel up to it, you can always go for a run with your dog. You’ll both get some exercise and have fun.
If health prevents you from walking a dog, consider getting a cat instead. Cats can be very loveable and energetic. Toss a ball across the floor or pull out a ball of yarn, and your cat will keep you both entertained for hours.
With a cat, you may not get as much exercise as you would with a dog, but you’ll get plenty of laughs, and laughter is great for your health, too!
On the subject of laughter, the Bahá’í Faith teaches:
‘Abdu’l Bahá loved laughter and His laughter was often a source of solace… He said that… It is good to laugh. Laughter is spiritual relaxation. (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 31)
Studies have shown owning a pet provides many health benefits. People with pets tend to have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and are generally healthier. Pet owners who’ve suffered a major illness recuperate quicker than those without a pet.
Pets have even been shown to increase a person’s immunity to allergies, especially in children. Owning a pet can reduce the risk of allergies, asthma and even heart disease.
People with pets also tend to be more positive and have less stress. They’re better able to cope with anxiety and deal with stressful situations. The action of petting a dog or cat can relieve stress and lower blood pressure. Pets help people relax and can even improve their attitude.
A pet can help break the ice when meeting new people. Pet owners who are new to their neighborhood or have difficulty meeting people may find that their pets give them a chance to make new friends.
Animals are naturally curious and may run up to people in an attempt to make their own introductions. Conversations may start between two dog owners and a new friendship begins.
We know from the Bahá’í Writings that each and every created thing is a sign or expression of at least one of the names or attributes of God. Bahá’u’lláh says that a true seeker:
will contemplate the manifest signs of the universe, and will penetrate the hidden mysteries of the soul… He will discover in all things the mysteries of divine Revelation and the evidences of an everlasting manifestation. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 267)
The attributes and names of God that animals manifest are what we are essentially attracted to in our our animals – gentleness, gracefulness, devotion, joy, enthusiasm, tenderness, strength, sincerity, meekness, trust, etc. So it’s fun to think of my cat sleeping with a smile of heavenly delight as a revelation of the quality of God, the Peaceful or my dog, greeting me at the door, tail wagging, as God, the loving. Some people have even suggested that “God” is “Dog”, spelled backwards!
There’s a reason pets were put on this earth as companions, and we’ve only touched on some of them here. If you’re considering letting a pet join your household, it’s proven that they can do positive things for your health. Get a pet, and enjoy!