Earlier this week, we learned that celebrity fitness trainer Bob Harper suffered a heart attack, which landed him in the hospital for an eight-night stay. And for the last three days, the 51-year-old host of the Biggest Loser has been updating the public on his recovery via his Instagram page.
And we couldn’t help but notice the faithful companion by his side — his dog Karl, aka #BestMedicine.
In fact, science supports Harper’s preferred form of treatment. Over the past few years, investigators have concluded that animal-assisted therapy (or pet therapy) has the ability to enhance a patient’s physical, emotional, and/or cognitive health. For example, the healing power of a pet has been shown to reduce the need for pain medication after joint replacement surgery, to combat homesickness, and to improve quality of life in cancer patients.
“There seems to be no end to the ways in which we benefit from our pets,” Natalie Pond, a spokesperson for Pet Partners (the largest nonprofit registering therapy dogs and other therapy animal pets, including horses, cats, rabbits, and birds), tells Yahoo Beauty. “From child health and development to healthy aging, mental health and wellness, and more, there are profound benefits.”
She refers to a study from 1995, which found that pet owners have higher one-year survival rates following heart attacks. “So what Bob has experienced is a real phenomenon that is increasingly studied by healthcare professionals and researchers in the medical field,” says Pond.
“Dogs were the first animals ever domesticated by human beings, and this was at least 15,000 years ago,” Garry McDaniel, a professor in business management and author of The Dog’s Guide to Your Happiness: Seven Secrets for a Better Life from a Man’s Best Friend, tells Yahoo Beauty. “So what that means is we’ve had 15,000 years to develop a relationship with dogs — and for dogs to read us.”
He says that compared to all other animals, dogs are innately focused on our needs. “When we don’t feel good, a dog can sense that,” explains McDaniel. “It can be mentally — sometimes you just have a bad day — emotionally, like if you’ve lost your job, or physically, like a heart attack. And when we feel bad, we sometimes want to be alone, yet we appreciate company and love being with someone who cares. And in this case, that someone is our best friend.”
Pond adds that these benefits can be obtained by both pet owners and others who spend time in the presence of an animal. “Emotionally speaking, pets have proven to help us release those feel-good hormones, helping us cope with depression and certain stress-related disorders, and just making us overall happier people,” she explains. “We can experience this result from just a few short minutes of stroking our pet dog, which is why therapy animal visits have exploded in popularity in health care facilities, nursing homes, and schools nationwide.”
She says volunteers in the Pet Partners programs have described “their animal’s amazing ability to choose one patient among many who was in particular need and spend their time and energy visiting with them,” continues Pond. “Often the animal, more than the handler, is the best leader to know where to bring that impactful moment of healing and laughter.”
McDaniel says that we share a special bond with four-legged companions because they are less critical and less demanding than our most cherished friends and family.
“We might feel a sense of obligation with others, but we don’t feel that way with dogs,” he states. “We feel like we can be ourselves and feel the way we really feel and still be with them — and that’s a great feeling. I have a friend who says, ‘Dogs don’t think they’re your best friend — they think they’re your only friend.’”
In other words, #DogsAreEverything.