Cuddle up with your pets
Nancy Warren lost her sight years ago, but she doesn’t need vision to know when she’s loved.
Warren, a renowned photographer who has published several books on sacred Pueblo dances and Native American culture, spends time each week cuddling dogs at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society.
“I feel their love,” she said recently, while sitting with a timid golden retriever mix in one of the shelter’s adoption kennels. “It’s an honor to have a dog accept your love and love you back.”
The physical, mental and emotional benefits of caring for a pet are well documented. Multiple studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health, for example, have found that pet owners show decreased blood pressure and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Dog owners who spend time walking their pets, for example, have a built-in daily exercise regimen. At the shelter, dog walking is one of the most popular volunteer activities. Jeanne Milholland has been volunteering as a dog walker for more than three years. “I’m always looking for ways to control my weight,” Milholland said. “Dog walking appealed to me because not only can I help the dogs, but it helps me exercise. For the first time in my life, I find my weight gradually shifting down.”
Hannah Padilla, the shelter’s director of behavior and training, said the walking program is a plus for the dogs because it gives them time to explore their environment and helps them learn important skills such as being relaxed while on leash. This improves their chances of being adopted.
Cats also have a calming effect on the many volunteers at the shelter. Joan Cordingly finds herself in the shelter’s cat adoption wing almost every Sunday, working with the cats to reduce their stress levels. “After an hour or so of getting to know the cats, I feel more energized and centered. What’s more, I haven’t been sick in a very long time,” she said. “I have a hunch that my Sunday afternoon visits reduce my stress levels and strengthen my immune system.”
Sue Burnham, coordinator of the shelter’s Pet Outreach program, which visits nursing homes, hospitals and libraries, said that the simple presence of an animal can be therapeutic. Pets combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, Burnham says. “I’ve watched my own therapy dog, Matilde, look into the eyes of a nonverbal nursing home resident, and I could see that they were connecting with each other in a way that was only possible with the accepting and nonjudgmental nature of an animal.”
The benefits of simply touching an animal have become a life’s mission for Linda Tellington-Jones, best-selling author and founder of Tellington Touch, whose world headquarters are located in Santa Fe.
Tellington-Jones has spent decades refining a technique of using gentle human touch to calm animals and promote bonding between the species.
Tellington-Jones, who now lives in Hawaii, often brings her popular workshops to Santa Fe. One of her favorite locations is Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary, which provides eldercare and hospice for dogs, horses and poultry. Ulla Pedersen, founder and director of the Santa Fe area sanctuary, said that gentle touch is “part of the whole wellness program,” benefiting pets and humans alike.
For Warren, the shelter’s dogs give as good as they get. “I feel good when I help the dogs,” she said. “They give me a lot. I feel like I’m doing something with my life now.”