Book Review: The Healing Power of Pets

From study to fascinating study, the effect pets have on our health has been documented in medical journals, lifestyle magazines and the occasional newspaper article. But for the first time, an author connects all the dots to demonstrate why, when and how pets can make our lives healthier physically and emotionally.

In The Healing Power of Pets, by Dr. Marty Becker (with Danelle Morton; Hyperion Press, 2002), the author combines medical research with interviews and anecdotal evidence to show what pet-owning people already know – that pets make us happier and healthier.

Becker, a veterinarian, begins by describing his own discovery that pets truly do heal. After suffering a serious back injury, Becker struggled with the knowledge that he had to slow down: "I've spent my professional life celebrating this special relationship that we call 'the Bond,' the healthy, affection connection between people and their pets that science is only now beginning to appreciate fully. Yet I'd never been really sick; never had to call on pets to point me toward a healthier lifestyle. This Bond that I could describe in passionate detail I'd only felt as an observer. In reality, I didn't have the first idea about how to heal."

The book takes the reader on a journey replete with Becker's personal accounts of how pets helped to heal family breaches and wounds, physical and emotional. From the basic companion bird to the most highly trained assistance dog, he explains in detail how pets have had positive influence on people's lives.

However, Becker does not rely on simply heartwarming tales of how a dog or cat has given people the will to live, though there is plenty of evidence in support of this. Real-world studies are cited and researchers interviewed to build the case.

For instance, he writes that obesity and lack of exercise in this country have reached "epidemic" proportions: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls our physical inactivity the major underlying cause of dying before our time, more significant even than smoking. Approximately 250,000 premature deaths every year are caused by our sedentary lifestyles."

The author explains why and how so many of us try to live healthier – and fail. But people with dogs have been shown to be healthier. "A long-term study of people who adopted dogs found that acquiring an animal sharply increased the amount of time they spent out of doors. … A year long study of elderly people living outside institutions found that pet owners scored higher on all activities of daily living."

The 270-page book covers all topics related to health, from how dogs can detect disease to the sense of well-being that comes from simply taking care of another living organism.

The book also provides practical guides to pet ownership. What types of pets or breeds may be best for certain lifestyles, ages and even medical conditions; how to select a pet from a shelter; and tips on strengthening the human-animal bond are among the many benefits The Healing Power of Pets provides.