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When I read Monday that a new scientific study, as well as a newly released meta-analysis, melding together the statistical information from a bunch of earlier studies, had concluded that owning a dog is good for you, my initial reaction was, I could have saved them a lot of time and money.
I skimmed the information anyway, which was published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association.
Based on 182,000 Swedes who had suffered strokes or heart attacks — wait, Swedes have heart attacks too? — the study made illuminating reading.
Owning a dog meant a 33-per-cent lower risk of death for heart attack survivors who lived alone, and a 27 per cent reduced risk for those who suffered a stroke, compared to those who didn’t own a hound.
The conclusions reached by the literature review, which piggy-backed on the data of over 3.8 million patients taken from 10 separate studies, was even more striking.
Compared to non-owners, dog-owners experienced a 24-per-cent reduced risk of all-cause mortality. The researchers discovered they also had a 65-per-cent reduced risk of mortality after having heart attack, and 31-per-cent-less chance of dying due to cardiovascular-related issues than non-owners.
“It is not-exactly a surprise, but it is much more robust evidence of what we already suspected,” said analysis co-author Caroline Kramer, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and an endocrinologist and clinician scientist at Mount Sinai Hospital, who also owns a miniature Schnauzer named Romeo.
I, truthfully, have known this for a while. A dozen or so years ago, during an idle moment, I filled in an online test designed to tell me how old my body really was.
Something must have been disagreeable about that number, since I have permanently banished it from memory.
What I did note at the time was the list of things that added to the wear-and-tear, only one of which I can now remember: I did not own a dog.
Enter the pooch in the picture, a golden doodle that we acquired from a breeder in the parking lot of an Irving Big Stop, in a transaction as quick and wordless as a pre-2019 weed deal.
I already lived in a lively, loving household with plenty of company.
But I still quickly noticed how the presence of Auggie, named after the old cartoon character, changed life.
For one thing, even a 50-something male is interesting to others while walking a cute, goofy puppy.
Dogs make even misanthropes social. Little kids run over and ask permission to pet him. So do university students, perhaps because Auggie reminds them of home, and old-timers, who stick out a hand towards him, as if reaching back to their youth.
Over the years I’ve made friends with other dog owners, in the way that parents become well-acquainted with the moms and das of their children’s pals.
When I asked Kramer about the link between dog-ownership and longevity she pointed to the way walking keeps us healthier. I have to agree.
Auggie won’t eat unless he gets a real leg stretch, during which he can sniff and christen, with his endless supply of urine, every passing tree, fire hydrant and fence post.
If I walk in the door after a prolonged absence and Auggie fixes with the sad eyes well, I must take him out, no matter how late, how bad the weather, how tired I am.
So he keeps me moving. Some days, walking alongside him, it helps me to see the world as he does: always fresh and new, endlessly interesting.
But there’s something else too, that might be reflected in statistics that show being around a dog reduces blood pressure as much as blood pressure medicine.
“Its probably a combination of factors,” explains Kramer, which is undoubtedly true.
But all I can say is this: if you open the door on a day when no one else is there, or perhaps everyone inside is distracted by life, it does the heart good to be greeted by a shaggy beast wagging his tail, overjoyed at your return.