Pets enhance a healthy lifestyle

A Rough Collie, perhaps awaiting its master, is one of the many kinds of pets that contribute to human health. Photograph by Marco Verch.

We’ve always heard that dogs are man’s best friend.  What is often overlooked is that animals provide many health benefits. Recently, I sat down with Dr. Randi Haberkorn, who has been a veterinarian since 1989 and practices in southern Westchester, to talk about those benefits.  

What drew you to this career? 

“From the time I was a teenager, I knew I wanted to follow this career path. I loved animals and I loved medicine. In addition, I also enjoy getting to know clients and witnessing the human-animal bond. Growing up, we always had a multitude of pets — dogs, cats and small rodents.”

What are the mental and physical benefits to owning a pet? 

“There are many health benefits to having pets.  It encourages people to get outside and exercise if people walk their dogs regularly, and there are benefits to being outdoors as well as to exercising. It has been shown that exercising outdoors is more beneficial than exercising indoors, so there are benefits to getting fresh air.

“For children, getting a pet can strengthen their immune system and lower their chances of developing allergies later in life. Having a pet improves heart health by lowering your chances of having a heart attack and reducing blood pressure. If someone has already had a heart attack, they recover quicker when they have a pet. In addition, having a pet can be an excellent icebreaker, especially in places like New York City, where there are a lot of pets and people.

“Additionally, no matter how depressed a person is, when you come home to a pet that’s happy to see you every time you walk through the door, you can’t remain sad. Before my children leave for school or go to bed at night, they stroke and kiss each dog good night or goodbye.”

Has your relationship with animals helped your own physical health and wellness? 

“I currently have four dogs — two Miniature Poodles, one Standard Poodle and one Black Russian Terrier. I walk the dogs three miles each day during the week and my husband walks them on the weekend. Once or twice a month, I take the dogs on an eight-mile loop hike. I love hiking because it gives me an opportunity to be outdoors for an extended period of time alone with the dogs and nature. During the week, I rarely see other people on the path, so it’s a great opportunity to be alone with my thoughts. It’s also a great cardiovascular workout because there are many undulating hills, where my heart rate gets elevated for sustained periods of time.  

“When the dogs realize we are going hiking because they see my backpack, they can’t contain their enthusiasm. They start barking and jumping and only settle down when they get in the car. They are so familiar with the hike that when we get close to the parking lot, they start getting excited again.” 

What have you observed from pet owners in regards to physical activity? 

“Most of my clients take their dogs on regular walks, which help people get outdoors and moving. For the elderly, it’s great to have a pet to care for because it keeps them moving and it gives them purpose in life.”

Reach Giovanni on Twitter @ GiovanniRoselli and his website, GiovanniRoselli.com.

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