How man's best friend can help improve your health

By Rachida Harper on August 3, 2019

Small but mighty, bold and feisty, chihuahuas are thought to be one of the most disliked dog breeds among people according to Canna-Pet. Even though these dogs tend to have a temperament, they are usually all bark and no bite, which is why many people still love them.

Dog owner Kimberly Smartt and her chihuahua, Lily-Rose, often spend their days together at the park. For the duo, this outing is more than just an opportunity for exercise and entertainment. Kimberly uses it as an opportunity to cherish what Lily-Rose has done for her and her husband.

Before Lily-Rose and her owner encountered each other for the first time, she was in a shelter waiting to find a home, like millions of other dogs. According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, approximately 3.3 million dogs enter U.S. shelters annually, with 670,000 euthanized.

In 2015, Smartt fostered and adopted Lily-Rose as a support dog for her husband who passed away several years later. Lily-Rose helped Smartt’s husband, and now she is helping her in more ways than she would have ever thought.

“Oh my God. I’ve had boxers and they’re the best, but I love [Lily-Rose]. I need her. She loves me too. She’s great,” Smartt said.

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Pets for Vets employee Liza Hess understands the importance of the relationship a dog can have with its owner. Pets for Vets is an organization that helps build a bond between U.S. Veterans and troubled dogs.

According to the site, dogs are rescued by the organization, given basic training, then provided to a new home after assessing what a veteran need.

As many as 20% of returning veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Through the organization’s Super Bond program, veterans and dogs get a second chance at life. Introducing a dog to a veteran’s life can help them strengthen social connections, increase mental health, boost confidence and self-esteem and overcome trauma, according to USA Today.

Andrew Peters, a former U.S Army Medic (68w), has helped other veterans feel their best for years. His dog, Teegan, has helped him for the past three. In many ways, they have helped each other.

“Teegan was the last of her litter, was sick, eyes swollen shut, a small chunk of skin missing on her forehead, and a distended belly when we saw her,” Peters said.

Peters does not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but Teegan has brought a sense of comfort to his life.

“For me, having a dog mitigates a lot of life’s little stresses,” Peters said. “Teegan looks at me completely not understanding what is wrong, only that something is wrong and wants me to feel better,” Peters said.

For anyone, owning a dog has several other health benefits. Research shows that dogs can improve heart health, help maintain an active lifestyle and detect diseases.

Before getting a dog, one should consider how much time they can invest in the relationship with their potential pet because dogs need people just as much as people need them.

Aspiring journalist and student reporter at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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