15 May 2010
The Human-Animal Bond: How animals enrich our lives
The year 2003 started out the same as any other year. It was my second year in the Army and I was just beginning to get used to the demands of military life, when, all of a sudden, my unit got orders to go to Iraq. I felt as if my world had been turned upside down, and I had no idea how I was going to get through the deployment and still keep my sanity. About three months into the deployment, I was taking the trash out after dinner when it happened. As I was about to launch the bag into the trash trailer, I could have sworn I heard a cat meow. I thought, “I must be crazy!” I hadn’t seen a cat since I left the United States, but sure enough when I bent down to look under the trailer, there he was. Staring back at me was a cat that could have passed for my childhood cat. I doubted that he would come to me if I called him, but I decided to give it a try anyway, and to my surprise he came! This was the beginning of a three month relationship. I started calling him Marvin since he reminded me so much of the cat I had when I was young. For the three months I spent about 30 minutes a day with Marvin. He would usually show up right around dinner time. He always knew where he could find me, and when he did, he would come over and jump into my lap and lay down. He would sit with me for a while and I would pet him and talk to him about my day. Some of the people I worked with would come by and tell me that I was crazy for touching a stray cat in the middle of Iraq. “He might have a disease,” they would say. I didn’t care what they said, Marvin was important to me. There I was in the middle of the desert in Iraq, half a world away from my family and everything familiar to me. For half an hour a day, sometimes more, that little cat allowed me to forget where I was for a while. There are countless other stories of the bond that humans and animals share. In recent years, we have also learned how animals can help humans overcome a wide range of social and individual problems. The relationship between animals and humans provides a common social bond among people of diverse cultural backgrounds, and due to animals’ unique capabilities, they are able to improve our lives. The most common human-animal bond is the relationship we have with our pets. Other ways are through therapy animals, and service animals. Therapy and service animals are different from each other because of the types of training they receive and the ways that they assist humans. Each bond is unique and provides a specific benefit to the participants. NEADS (Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans) was established in 1976 to train and provide independence to people who are deaf or physically disabled through the use of canine assistance. These assistance dogs become an extension of their owners and bring security, freedom, independence and relief from social isolation to their human partners (NEADS, np). Service Dogs are trained to assist people who are physically disabled. They are trained to retrieve things that drop, portable telephones, or items from shelves and other hard-to-reach places; open refrigerator and other doors; push elevator buttons; turn light switches on and off; carry items in their mouths or backpacks; pull wheelchairs up ramps or short distances; go get help should their partner need human assistance.(NEADS, np) A Hearing Dog is specially trained to assist a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. The dog is trained to respond to sounds such as a smoke alarm, baby crying, doorbell, alarm clock etc. and alert his or her deaf partner that these sounds have occurred (NEADS, np). Service dogs can help disabled people in the following ways: The person who uses a wheelchair can now retrieve dropped items without having to call someone for help. The child with a hearing disability is alerted to the school bell signaling a class change. The person with a visual impairment...