\r\nThe Love Affair with Our Pets\r\nBy Sandy Modell\r\nA pet's companionship, comfort and non-judgmental nature can have powerful effects. As American wildlife photographer, writer, wildlife preservationist and television personality Roger Andrew Caras once said, \u201cDogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.\u201d\r\nAnd they\u2019re good for our health\r\nIs there anything better than coming home after a hard day\u2019s work to find that your dog is overjoyed at your return? Or your cat wants nothing more than to curl up in your lap, purring to beat the band? You may even relax by watching your fish swim peacefully in their tank.\r\nWhile there are still contradictory opinions on the health benefits of pet ownership, recent studies suggest that owning an animal can help to reduce your blood pressure, alter the course of heart disease and lower your stress level.\r\n\r\nStudies also suggest that people who own pets are generally in better health than those who do not. Pets encourage us to move a little or a lot more, depending upon the breed. Dogs must go outside for walks. Cats, too, need robust exercise and interactive playtime. And these positive effects hold for every kind of pet studied so far, including but not limited to dogs, cats, gerbils, parakeets, chickens, fish, mice, rabbits, and iguanas.\r\nAnimals can often help those who can no longer be helped by people. In particular, pets can help people who feel withdrawn, depressed or hopeless. Animal-assisted therapy can help children and teens who have difficulty relating to an adult therapist but find comfort in playing with a dog.\r\nWhat is undisputed is that pets provide us with unconditional love and that loving an animal will have a positive effect on our lives. Whether a service animal, therapy animal, working animal or a pet \u2013 our love for them and their love for us feels amazing.\r\nUniversity of Maryland researcher Dr. Ann Cain found that 87 percent of pet owners thought of their pets as members of the family; 81 percent felt that pets tuned in to their feelings; and 38 percent celebrated their pet's birthday.\r\nThe care and feeding of the family pet can be a child\u2019s first serious responsibility. And teaching children how to train their dog gives them a sense of empowerment and builds their confidence along with their relationship with their pet.\r\n\r\nThe benefits work both ways\r\nWe experience a surge of \u201cfeel good\u201d hormones\u2014elevated serotonin and dopamine levels\u2014plus lower blood pressure and less stress simply by touching our pets. Animals pick up on our moods, too, and tend to draw near to provide emotional support when we\u2019re feeling blue.\r\nAnd they get the same benefits from being petted. Dr. Marty Becker, \u201cAmerica\u2019s Veterinarian,\u201d calls this the love loop. In other words, it\u2019s mutual. We effect the same physiological changes in our pets as they do in us. In general, animals are fun and can make us laugh and feel relaxed.\r\nPets are also social magnets. Walk down The Avenue in Del Ray or along King Street with a puppy at the end of the leash and you are guaranteed to have people stop and talk. Taking your pup to a training class provides comradery with people who have the common goal of training their dogs.\r\n\r\nCelebrating the bond\r\nWhat better way to celebrate the loving bond we have with our pets than to attend the Third Annual Alexandria Love Your Pet Day Block Party on Sunday, April 28. The fun starts at 11 a.m. The block party will stretch between Roth and Colvin Streets, and will include vendors, dog and pet related activities, and demonstrations in agility, musical freestyle (dancing with your dog), search and rescue, and more. There will be activities for kids too! Come on out!\r\nSandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder and CEO of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria\u2019s award winning, premier canine training and learning center -- offering classes and private lessons in puppy training and socialization, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! \r\nVisit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com\/wholistichound and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com\/wholistichound.