You’re standing in line at the airport, waiting to check your luggage. The place is packed; you keep getting jostled, and no matter where you stand you feel like you’re in someone’s way.
The line to get through security is an even bigger nightmare. By the time you make it through the checkpoint, you’re inches away from a full-on panic attack.
Then a hero approaches. She wags her tail, gives you a friendly grin, and puts her head under your hand for a scratch.
She’s a therapy dog, one of several employed at airports across the United States to help calm stressed travelers. These four-legged heroes work as greeters just beyond TSA checkpoints at Miami International and Los Angles International airports, among others.
A world away, Japan’s city dwellers have found a way to cope with the stress of urban life. In Tokyo, they visit one of a number of pet cafes, mixing snacks and beverages with some pet therapy.
These cafes, which started with cats, are growing in number and now center around a variety of different animals. In one, reptile lovers can handle snakes and lizards; in another, owls line up along a fence waiting for patrons to touch their feathers.
The first cat cafe opened in Taiwan in 1998; the idea quickly spread to Tokyo, where cramped quarters and apartment building rules prevent many people from owning pets of their own.
But why all this time spent with four-legged animals in the first place?
Pets and Stress Relief
Multiple studies (going back to the 1980s) have shown that pets provide powerful stress relief. Time spent petting a dog or cat can lower your blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol. At the same time, it elevates “feel good” hormones like oxytocin. Some people also experience raised endorphin and dopamine levels after spending just five minutes with their pets.
Pets can improve recovery time from heart disease, and improve emotional health and well-being. There’s even research to suggest that children who grow up with a dog or cat in the house have a lower incidence of asthma and allergies.
In a recent study, dogs and cats helped subjects lower their actual stress and the amount of stress they perceived — outperforming human friends and spouses.
In the case of dogs, the physical benefits of pet ownership can be just as profound. Your dog will need to be walked and have some quality play time every day, forcing you off the couch for some exercise.
Finally, pets are just good company. They’re happy to be with you, many are natural comedians, and studies in nursing homes showed that pets did a better job than human companions at relieving loneliness and perceived isolation.
So if you’re stressed, maybe it’s time to geek out with your four-legged buddy.