By Pam Gennings, Executive Director Special Projects 

“Happiness is a warm puppy,” said Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts.

He, along with every pet lover out there, knows from experience what scientific research is now proving: pets make us happier and healthier.

Pets are also great conversation starters. I witnessed this first hand while working for the Missouri Division of Aging. One day, I received a phone call from a concerned niece. Her uncle (Mr. V) lived alone, was not eating right, taking care of himself and just seemed lonely and depressed.

She warned me that her uncle was cantankerous, very independent and reluctant to accept any outside help. Then she wished me luck.

When I arrived, Mr. V was very hesitant to let me in, but finally agreed. It was obvious he did not welcome my company, did not want to talk and certainly did not want any help. How was I going to get through to him?

Looking around I noticed a photograph of a man in hunting gear with an Irish Setter by his side. Could this be the key to reaching Mr. V?

“Who is that?” I asked.

Mr. V told me it was a picture taken several years ago of him and his Irish Setter.

“I have an Irish Setter named Orie,” I told him. That connection changed Mr. V’s demeanor and our meeting. We started sharing dog stories. He told me about the dogs he once had, and I told him all about Orie. When it was time to go, he welcomed a return visit.

Irish Setter Orie

Guess who came along with me on my next visit? I’ll never forget the look on Mr. V’s face when he opened the door and saw Orie. I am convinced Orie knew Mr. V needed him. Orie sat right beside Mr. V who petted him the entire time we talked. By the end of our visit, Mr. V agreed to have a personal care assistant come to help him at home. I agreed to bring Orie back.

Taking Orie to see Mr. V was more than a conversation starter; it was therapeutic. Research is showing that pet therapy can:

  • Lift spirits
  • Encourage communication
  • Increase socialization
  • Reduce loneliness or depression
  • Provide comfort
  • Meet the basic human need of touch

If you, or someone you know, could benefit from a furry friend I urge you to check out