Cud­dle up with your pets

Santa Fe New Mexican - Healthy Living - - FRONT PAGE - By Ben Swan

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.”

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