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I’m smiling from ear to ear right now because I get to brag about my best friend for a second. Her name is Delilah and the other day she turned 10 years old. I know what you’re thinking—your friend is kind of young, no? Well actually, she’s not. In fact, she’s really kind of old. See, in human years, Delilah is 66.

That’s right—Delilah is a dog. More specifically, a golden retriever. And she is, indeed, one of my best friends. I’m sure all of the pet owners and animal lovers out there understand. But for those of you who don’t, here’s why my dog is my best friend: First, she’s fun; Delilah is always up for exploring the neighborhood or grabbing a sundae from our favorite ice cream store. She’s also unbelievably loyal. Even when I lose my cool on the phone or stink after a workout, she tolerates (even prefers) my company. And finally, the cherry on top is that she’s loving. Delilah loves me no matter what, and she shows me that love every single day—with a wag of the tail, a slobbery kiss, or a loud cry whenever she sees me.

In fewer words, my dog is my best friend because she’s absolutely wonderful and she brings a great deal of joy to my life. She is self-care wrapped into one big, furry, 65-pound package. And boy, do I have great news for you: she isn’t the only of her kind. In fact, you can experience the same unconditional love I’ve just described. All it takes is caring for your very own furry friend.

Who’s Taking Care of Who?

Did you know that just petting a dog or cat for a few minutes is scientifically-proven to improve your mood? Interacting with your pet triggers a release of the “feel-good” hormone oxytocin, which helps us feel happy! This alone makes getting a pet super beneficial and therapeutic for people who are lonely, depressed, or burdened in any other way. (Hence: therapy dogs.) But that’s not to say that this is the only health benefit you receive as a pet owner. Caring for a dog, cat, or other companion pet is also scientifically proven to…

  • Decrease stress: Researchers at State University of New York found that people completing a difficult task were less stressed when their pets were around as compared with a close friend or family member.
  • Lower blood pressure: Multiple studies have shown that having a pet may also lower blood pressure, as a result of the stress reduction we just touched on.
  • Alleviate pain: Pets have also proven to ease our pain, especially when we’re dealing with chronic pain, such as migraines or fibromyalgia. In fact, one study found that 34% of fibromyalgia patients reported pain relief after spending as little as 10 minutes with a therapy dog, compared with only 4% of patients who sat alone in a waiting room.
  • Lower cholesterol: According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, owning a cat or dog translates into a lower cholesterol, too. While it isn’t clear why, pet owners (especially men) do, indeed, have significant lower levels of cholesterol and triglyceride.
  • Take the edge off of socializing: That’s right—spending time with your pet can also equate to spending time with others! A study from Australia found that owning a pet leads to an increase in social contact. Just think of all the people you’ll meet on your walks and your trips to the vet.

Finding Your Perfect Companion

I’m going to encourage you to wander on down to the nearest shelter and play with some dogs, meet the cats, and see if you feel drawn to one. Many people have found that the small amount of care a pet requires is not only doable, but oh-so rewarding. These animals provide unconditional love and support. They don’t care if you were late to work this morning, or if you skip your shower tonight. They won’t hold a brief freak-out against you, or judge you for crying. Instead, they’ll do their best to comfort you without telling you to snap out of it or urging you to feel better. Animals are happy to just hang out and share their lives with us, making them the perfect cure for loneliness. Here are a couple helpful resources for finding the perfect pet for you, if you didn’t find the right fit at your local animal shelter:

    Petfinder: This site allows you to put in your location and then find all pets available for adoption near you! You can even narrow your search to filter out other animals if you know you want a dog, cat, hamster, or horse—you name it—which enables you to find your new best friend effectively and efficiently.

    Found Animals: This nonprofit is dedicated to putting pets in loving homes and like Petfinder, allows you to find adoptable animals nearby. Additionally, it offers a ton of informative resources about caring for your pet. Right now, I’m seeing articles about preparing for the first few days of doggy parenthood, recognizing unhappy cat behavior, and dealing with your pup’s allergies.

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