Pets are Mother Nature’s best remedy

ZSM volunteers manning their charity fund-raising booth set up at Coco Cabana.

Kho (right) with ZSM volunteers during a charity dog walk to raise funds for homeless animals.

PETS have always been a part of our family as we were growing up.

We particularly loved dogs and I can’t remember growing up without one.

When my mother was young, she used to walk all the way to school — which was quite far from the house. Whenever she walked, a pack of stray dogs would come and join her — or as she put it, “accompany” her to school. As rewards, she would give the dogs some treats or whatever food she had with her. The dogs became her daily companions to school.

One day, as she was on her way to school, she noticed a stranger following her. She tried walking faster to lose the man but he started running after her.

Fearing for her life, my mother screamed her lungs out as she ran. Out of nowhere, a pack of dogs appeared and went after the man. To escape, he ran into a nearby jungle with the dogs in pursuit.

As my mother continued her way to school, the same pack of dogs met her halfway — some had blood in their mouth, most probably from biting the man.

She said it was as if the dogs came back to make sure she was okay. She gave her quadruped saviours some treats as a way to thank them. Till today, she never knew what happened to the man — she never saw him again.

My mother, now past her mid-60s, has told us this story many times since we were little kids. My dogs always give me a sense of security and comfort. Whenever I’m sad or feeling down, it is as if my dogs know how I’m feeling and they will come and try to comfort me.

A ZSM volunteer rescuing a puppy trapped in a drain.

Mirians adopting rescued stray pups from Zero Strays Miri.

Companionship

According to nutritionist and former Miri Hospital director, Dr Uma Devi, dogs and cats can help people overcome the pain of loneliness by giving companionship and affection.

“For anyone consistently left alone, pets can also supply a sense of security and protection. Pets can make you laugh and divert your mind away from troubles,” she told thesundaypost.

Many researchers are finding that the most serious ailment for older persons is not cancer or heart disease but loneliness.

“It may sound more poetic than medical reality but people die of broken hearts. Love is the most important health tonic we have and pets are nature’s best source of love,” she said.

According to Dr Uma, many elderly and lonely people have discovered pets satisfy their needs and enable them to hold on to the world of reality, care, human turmoil, sacrifice as well as intense emotional relationships.

“Their self-concept as worthwhile individuals is restored and even enhanced when they find the pet that they have been caring for, loves them in return,” she said, adding that pets have been found to be anti-stress entities.

Rescued homeless puppies being adopted by Mirians.

More responsible

Dr Uma said children growing up with pets, tend to be more caring and responsible citizens while children who abuse and ill treat animals grow up to be violent and tend to abuse others. This has been proven through studies and research.

“People who are depressed and feel left out are more likely to have illness. Pets can be some kind of psychotherapist. People growing up with pets are more positive and humane towards animals, others as well as the environment.”

She added that by having pets, the risk of heart attacks could also be lowered by 4 per cent, and by talking or interacting with their pets, owners can also experience reduction of blood pressure.

“However, pets are not a cure for health problems,” she stressed.

According to Dr Uma, pets can a source of fun and good exercise because they make you move around with them, especially when you walk them. They can also provide you with physical protection and are a catalyst for establishing human contact and interaction.

Many pets, she noted, could encourage expression of feelings, complement a person’s emotional needs, give him or her a feeling of being wanted, help them think positive as well as enhance their physical and emotional health just by being their companions and close friends.

“Presence of animal can initiate conversation and make social interaction less threatening. There are cases of non-verbal patients beginning to speak when interacting with pets.”

Dr Uma pointed out that pets could be good companions for those feeling they have no source of love, no sense of being needed or are having a breakdown specially.

“When you’re missing regular patern of interaction, have no one to talk to, feel important to or that life is empty and aggravated grief intensification, this is where a pet can come in and interact with you.”

She added that among individuals with autism disorder (AD), having pets can lower their blood pressure as the pets can provide them with laughter and fun.

“Pets create a home-like atmosphere that will make them feel peaceful. Psychiatrists also find potential health values exist in using pets in rehabilitation, including in cancer patients.

“AD patients speak more to animals than people. They rely on animals as a vehicle for communication.

Physical contact — like hugging, kissing, holding and patting a pet — provides them with emotional and sensing experiences,” she explained.

Dr Uma said a heart-screening survey carried out in 1980 and 1992 by Baker Medical Institute in Australia concluded that pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels and were, therefore, at less risk of heart diseases.

“Most pet owners deal better with stressful situations and are less likely to feel lonely.”

She added that persons most vulnerable to grief following a pet’s death are those whose pets served as a major source of affection and companionship. For many isolated elderly, pets are a main source of socialisation.

“Patting, touching, stroking and caressing pets — and appreciative licks from pets — are a source of affection.”

Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) programme being carried out by ZSM volunteers to control the increase in population of strays in Lutong.

ZSM volunteers trapping a female stray and her pups using the humane barricade method.

Zero Strays and PAWS

In the late 90’s, Dr Uma and animal lover Morgan Chew, who, at that time, was in charge of the MRC Kidney Dialysis Centre, with help from then council chairman Datuk Wee Han Wen as well as some volunteers, managed to get a place to be used as animal shelters for the strays they were rescuing.

Zero Strays Miri (ZSM) and PAWS (Piasau Animal Welfare Support) were active in dealing with strays in 2013. The rescued dogs and cats were adopted by animal lovers and those looking for furry companions and friends. These animals not only brought joy and laughter to their owners friends but their companionship was also comforting during stressful time.

In 2013, a special taskforce was formed with support from Miri Mayor Lawrence Lai to deal with strays. The taskforce, headed by Dr Uma, has initiated the ‘Pet In Every Home’ programme.

The taskforce came out with the ‘Pet In Every Home’ pamphlet, which was distributed to schools and some non-governmental organisations. Through the programmes, the taskforce not only created awareness of the need to saving strays but also the positive effects of bringing pets into homes.

“We have been working closely with PAWS and Zero strays Miri for the ‘Pet In Every Home Programme’. They are voluntary bodies that encourage adoption of strays and discourage dumping.

“Let us strongly condemn dumping and abuse of cats and dogs, and encourage our children to be friends with cats and dogs to inculcate the caring and loving concept,” Dr Uma said.

Meanwhile, president Sterwina Kho said ZSM aims to reduce the number of strays in Miri City through Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) or Rehome Programme, being carried out zone by zone.

The TNR programme involves catching dogs or cats fit for reproducing and neutering them before releasing them back to locations where they were found. The programme is the most efficient and effective humane way to control and reduce the population of strays.

“We focus our practice on TNR because it’s impossible to rehome every single stray in Miri. The process of rescuing strays, housing them temporarily while waiting for adoption is a far slower process to tackle than the uncontrolled breeding by strays, hence creating an increased stray population,” Kho said.

She added that all ZSM volunteers dedicated their time and efforts to helping as many dogs or cats in Miri as possible and they also relied on support from Mirians to help them tackle the issues of strays.

You can get in touch with ZSM via its Facebook page ‘Zero Strays Miri’ to see if there are any rescued ‘friends’ for you.

ZSM volunteers taking strays for neutering surgery so that they do not breed uncontrollably.

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