How the Love of a Dog Heals

Posted on December 6, 2018 by Martin Oaks under Community, Hello world, Memorial, Resources
1 Comment

Last week, Jim McGrath proved that a good photograph can provide the simplest explanation of life’s most profound truths.

His shot of the service dog, Sully, lying by the flag draped casket of George Herbert Walker Bush, captured so much of what many instinctively already know — a wordy narration could never convey the depth of feeling of this uncomplicated image.

Pet lovers have long understood that the unconditional positive regard a dog provides is a life sustaining force.

One hundred years ago, the father of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, figured out that a dog’s love is more than just heartwarming — it is heart healing.

Today, empirical evidence, that is actual scientific research, continues to back up this notion with data:  the American Heart Association and Harvard Medical School are on board with the findings.

In fact, Harvard Health Publishing has released a report titled, “Get Healthy, Get A Dog.”

Research about this subject is behind what the majority of the American public deduced quite some time ago.  About 72 percent of homes in this country have pets — almost 40 percent of those homes have dogs.

And, as illustrated by Sully, service dogs are in demand: although the estimates vary, it appears that there are almost 400,000 currently employed in aiding those who have special needs.

A service dog does exactly what Sully did for the former President: he’s a companion who is capable of opening doors, retrieving dropped items (handy if you are sitting in a wheelchair), and perhaps most importantly, alerting others if a medical emergency develops.

Bush once quipped that although the dog could respond to hundreds of commands, he had yet to learn to mix a good martini.

Incidentally, Sully, named after Chesley Sullenberger (the famed pilot who landed a plane safely on the Hudson River in 2009), was assigned to Bush in June of this year by America’s Vetdogs — it costs around $50,000 to train these animals. See their website for more information.

Bush, of course, isn’t the only President who understood the value of a canine family member — dogs are famously non-partisan (they do seem to prefer liberal servings of food). It wasn’t long ago that President Obama, a smile on his face, was seen  romping on the White House lawn with a football and one of his beloved Portuguese Water Dogs (a breed favored by Teddy Kennedy).

The list of dog-loving Presidents goes back to George Washington, who is said to have had 36 of them (he was a breeder).

Human affection and attention to dogs far pre-dates the days of Washington.  Evidence of dog burials can be traced back thousands of years.  Shakespeare mentions dogs nearly 300 times in his plays.

But, it was Sigmund Freud, not a dog person until he was in his 60’s, who best summed up the relationship: dogs are true to their natures, they have a capacity for “affection without ambivalence.”

He said that “dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people.”

Witnessing the calming effect his two chows (Lun and Jo-Fi) had on patients, Freud allowed them to sit through therapy sessions; he admired the perceptive way the dogs responded to the moods of those on the couch.

Much data has emerged about the salubrious effects dogs have on humans: in 1980, Erika Friedmann and three associates published a report about the impact pets have on those with coronary heart disease, a truly important step forward in this analysis.

The American Heart Association notes that pets help relieve stress, lower blood pressure/cholesterol levels, increase fitness, and boost feelings of well-being.

Harvard Medical professionals agree, adding that ongoing research indicates that the health benefits of owning a pet are undeniable.

“I think the data are pretty compelling that people with dogs have better health,” says cardiologist and Harvard professor, Dr. Thomas Lee.

The late psychiatrist/political commentator, Charles Krauthammer, said it best: “Dogs make us better people.”

While Martin Oaks Cemetery & Crematory does not do pet cremations, please call us if you would like some recommendations.



Flowers outside of George H. W. Bush’s home — credit to Amy Risinger.

One thought on “How the Love of a Dog Heals

  1. B zellers says:

    I hope some deserving veteran gets this wonderful dog. Please Laura and George do not put this wonderful dog down.

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