Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dogs and the Depressed

As someone who has moderate atypical depression, I recently opted to stop taking medication and pursue mental health in more natural ways. It got me thinking--what effect do my dogs have on my depression?

They certainly give me reasons to smile throughout the day. Alfie's almost-human gentle eye contact always has a way of calming me and making me be in the moment. And Butter's ever-wagging tail and upside-down antics (in which she gets attention by going completely limp--except for her wagging tail--and flopping over on her back) remind me to smile and laugh.

But can they really be considered treatment?

I've heard a lot of positive messages like this one about how pets are beneficial to health, but I haven't found a lot of information on differences in effectiveness among specific types of depression.

For example, that article mentions the positive effects of pets on stressed stockbrokers, sad nursing home patients, or AIDS sufferers. What about people whose depression is not as easily attributed to specific environments or circumstances?

I did some quick searching through my university's databases of academic journals. While I didn't find any studies that directly answered my question, I did find some interesting study results.

  • A study published in Anthrozoos (the journal of the Delta Society) in December 2007 challenged the common assumption that owning a pet decreases loneliness. "There was no evidence that companion animal acquisition helped to reduce levels of loneliness, irrespective of whether participants already owned a companion animal at the time of seeking to acquire a new companion animal, or the type of companion animal that was acquired."
  • A study in the same journal in 1993 looked at the impact of dog ownership on depression, anxiety, and anger in working women and found that "Results did not support the hypotheses that among working women (1) pet owners would have lower levels of emotional distress than nonowners and (2) the greater the degree of attachment to the pet(s), the smaller the degree of emotional distress."
So, dogs may not be as effective a medicine or preventative measure as is generally thought.

However, I did find many studies relating to dogs and depression that had to do with the relationship between animals and the elderly or "empty nesters." Studies of those groups decisively found that animals had a positive mental effect.

It seems that while I may be able to rely on my dogs to lift my moods and lower my blood pressure, I can't count on them to cure my depression. Still, I count them as invaluable additions to my life, and I can certainly rely on them to try to brighten my day.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Reconsidering "Fido"

An article in my local paper the other day revealed that there is only one licensed Fido in my city. The name has such a historically strong association with dogs, I guess it now seems too unoriginal to use. But the name most often used now? Buddy.

How original.

According to Wikipedia, the name "Fido" comes from the Latin word fidelis, which means "faithful." Faithfulness is a trait dogs are famous for, and even though "Fido" may now seem cliche, "Buddy"has become our modern equivalent.

I think it's time we reconsidered the name "Fido." Dignify it a little. Think about it: Buddy is the kind of dog you watch the game and have a couple beers with, but you could philosophize over a glass of wine with Fido.

But then again, why not get a little more creative?

I had a chance to puppysit these two uniquely named pups. The girl (left) is named Barbie, and her brother (right) is, you guessed it, Ken.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to name either of my dogs. Because I got them as adults, they were both used to their names already. But I'm not complaining. In fact, I think their names are quite fitting.

My dog Alfie got his dignified, quintessentially English name because he was born in Britain, where naming a dog "Alfie" is not uncommon. I think it fits him, and when he is looking especially English, he even gets promoted to Sir Alfred. It suits him quite nicely.

My dog Butter, on the other hand, is a little less dignified. She has no English roots to trace her name back to. I like to think that her name is appropriate, since she melts into the arms or lap of whatever human is holding her, and she spreads out across her bed (or mine) when she sleeps. (Har-har.) But the true story (she is a little embarrassed to admit) is that she was named "Butter" simply because her littermate was named "Peanut."

How Peanut feels about her name, we can only guess, but at least it's a little more original than "Buddy."