As everyone knows, being active is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And for many, owning and caring for pets—and especially dogs—can make staying active not only easier for people, but more enjoyable.
Katrina Boucher, owner of The Cape Cod Dog in Eastham, is a strong believer in the philosophy that pets “help” their owners get in a walk and some fresh air on a regular basis. “No matter what age you are,” Boucher says, “if you have a dog you have to get out and exercise.”
Angela Stetson, manager of Uptown Dog Cape Cod in West Falmouth, adds that there are many accessories on the market today that are designed to promote exercising with one’s pet. She mentioned a few of her favorites: “There are jogging leashes and attachments for bicycles,” Stetson says, “really great stuff to be on the go with dogs.” The bicycle attachments, she explains, allow dog owners to pedal along while their terriers and greyhounds jog alongside.
Stetson says a number of her customers are in the routine of meeting other dog owners regularly at local beaches or dog parks. “I have even heard a few love stories,” she says with a laugh. “People are happier when they get out and walk with their dogs.”
Nowadays, Stetson says many of her customers are more focused on their pets’ nutrition and health than they were in years past. “People are willing to spend more money on better, all natural food,” she says. “They’re going the holistic route.” Investing in healthier pet products, Stetson adds, may also result in fewer visits to the vet.
And while one’s physical health is important, pets are also renowned for providing their owner with companionship and often lifting their spirit. “Animals give you unconditional love,” Boucher says. “If you live alone or maybe lost a spouse, you get attached to your pet. Dogs and cats—and even birds—are so great because you can really have a connection with them.”
According to both Boucher and Stetson, the lives of many of their customers have been drastically improved simply by owning a dog. Boucher shared a story of an elderly woman who has been visiting her store since she first opened at a local flea market in 2004. The woman lives alone and suffers from depression, Boucher says, but she is also an animal lover and will give to her animals even when she goes without. Were it not for the woman’s beloved dog, an affectionate papillon, Boucher says she might not get out of bed most days.
Stetson adds that one of her customers who was once painfully shy has seemingly taken on a much more outgoing personality since he recently adopted a rescued mix-breed. “His neighbor even told me he’s more social now,” Stetson says. “He is getting to know everyone in his neighborhood.”
Owning a dog has also proved beneficial for Christine Leonelli-Elmer, and that’s been especially true in the past year. Leonelli-Elmer, 58, struggles with anxiety and depression. Her 2-year-old Shih Tzu, Zozo, has been a great comfort.
Before buying Zozo, Leonelli-Elmer researched how dogs can lower one’s blood pressure. As she has a history of high blood pressure, the Centerville resident was thrilled to learn that just six months after Zozo came into her life her readings had fallen—and have remained steady and healthy ever since. “She has helped me emotionally with my anxiety and physical well-being,” Leonelli-Elmer says.
Leonelli-Elmer recently had Zozo designated as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). ESAs can help those who suffer from mental and emotional conditions such as anxiety or depression, and Leonelli-Elmer’s psychologist had suggested the idea after witnessing the calming affect Zozo had on her. With the designation, Leonelli-Elmer is now allowed to bring Zozo with her onto airplanes and to other places where dogs are not generally allowed.
This has been of such benefit to her that Leonelli-Elmer now wants to share with others the joy Zozo brings to her each day. She is currently having Zozo trained to become a service dog.
When the training—which includes teaching Zozo not to jump up or bark—is complete, Leonelli-Elmer will be authorized to bring the dog into nursing homes and hospitals to interact with the residents and patients. “I wanted to take it further and help others,” Leonelli-Elmer says. “Zozo has a calming effect when I walk her, pet her or just hold her. For my health, I could not live without her!”
A recent graduate of Barnstable High School, Emily Penn is now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.