There’s a popular expression – printed on t-shirts, fridge magnets and other knick-knacks – which urges people to take their moral behaviour up a grade or two: “Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.”
It’s a phrase that resonates with Alan Beck. A professor in comparative pathobiology at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Beck says that besides making us better, healthier people, having a relationship with a pet has actually become part of our strategy for survival.
“It’s been proven that when you interact with an animal, there are certain behavioural and physiological responses that improve our overall health,” says Beck, who will deliver a free public lecture on the subject here next Monday. “It’s Darwin’s way of rewarding us for being nurturing.”
Beck’s research in the field of anthrozoology over the past four decades has contributed to a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between people and their companion animals. He co-authored the book, Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship, first published in 1983 then revised in 1996. In 2011, he edited The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for Pets and People.
Beck said previous research has demonstrated that interacting with animals helps lower blood pressure, improves focus and attention, reduces stress by lowering feelings of loneliness, and encourages exercise, especially for dog owners who routinely walk their pets. Research in Maryland proved that cardiac patients who owned pets had better one-year survival rates after a heart attack than those who didn’t have an animal, he said.
“There are even some people who give up smoking because they know it’s not good for their pets,” said Beck, who has two small dogs of his own. “It’s not a trivial relationship.”
Beth Daly, a professor in the Faculty of Education who launched a new course this year called Animals and Humans in Society, is hosting Beck. She described him as an “engaging and vibrant speaker” and said his lecture will be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about the relationships between people and their animals.
His lecture, titled The Unique Bond Between Companion Animals and People, will be held Monday, November 14, at 5:30 p.m. in the Oak Room, Vanier Hall.