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The four-legged company we keep

By Lois Bell
Sheridan Senior Center

SHERDAN — Sheridan is definitely a dog-friendly town. On a given day, you are likely to see a dog or more in a vehicle. Many businesses with drive-through window service may offer a treat to your four-legged friend in the vehicle with you.

“It’s not in the entire world but it’s true in the United States that we form an incredible bond with our pets,” said Kivi Leroux Miller, president of the nonprofit Marketing Guide.com.

We embrace our dogs as a family member. We buy them special bowls, clothes and toys, take them for pedicures, manicures, shampoos — everything short of a color correction for the graying dog. Dogs travel with us. Our communities build dog parks. And we take our dogs to the doctor when they are ill and for regular check-ups.
“Dogs give us a reason to get up and get dressed,” Cel Hope, director of the Sheridan Dog and Cat Shelter said. “They are someone who needs you and depends on you, and they give unconditional love and acceptance.”
There are numerous studies on the positive benefits of dog ownership. Studies show that having pets in general is helping us to live longer, be more active and live healthier lives. Dogs require us to go outside and get some exercise — whether we want to or not.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, pet ownership helps to fend off depression and overwhelming feelings of loneliness. This is particularly beneficial to those who have lost a loved one or who are far away from friends and family. In some instances, dog ownership is a connection to a loved one who has passed away when the dog was owned by both.

“After a fishing trip, I came home to find my wife, Irene, holding a tiny little fox terrier in both of her hands,” Sheridan resident Johnny Kuncheff said. “Of course I couldn’t say no.”
They named the terrier, Smokey. Irene passed away. Six years after coming into his life, Smokey is companion to Kuncheff and a connection to Irene.

Dog ownership transcends utilitarian thinking. Most people don’t get a dog because it’s economically feasible; there is a greater bond between an owner and their dog. For people in poverty, this is especially true.
“It’s all about relationships (for people in poverty),” said Dr. Regina Lewis., who was a presenter with the “Bridges out of Poverty” program. The program seeks to develop accurate mental models of poverty in communities.
To a populace in poverty that feels ostracized from others, pets give unconditional loyalty and love. This relationship often takes precedence over the person’s personal needs. Caring for another creature helps to focus on the positive side of life if even momentarily.

With a nod toward the strength of this bond between dogs and their owners, many owners make arrangements for their dogs during their end-of-life planning. They make sure the dog will be cared for throughout its life.
Dog ownership is not for everyone. Caring for a dog requires patience. Dogs must be trained and need a dependable routine of exercising and feeding. Even an adopted dog needs time to bond to its new owner. Believe it or not, dogs grieve when the relationships they had with previous owners are severed. Dogs feel the separation when their owners move away or drop them off by the side of the highway. Each individual needs to take thoughtful and considered stock if they are appropriate for dog ownership.

One way to take stock if you are ready for dog ownership is to check if the local animal shelter has a volunteer program for caring for animals.

By volunteering, a potential dog owner can see if they are up to a routine of caring for a dog and gain the benefits of dog ownership with routine and exercise. Or, if dog ownership is not right for you, volunteering at the local shelter could be an option. You would reap the benefits of exercise and being with others while helping the dogs. Your life could be enriched by the company you keep.







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