Dogs, Bees and Us: Do dogs or cats prevent heart attacks?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us
Birmans on homemade stamps on Zazzle

Birman owners love our “sacred cats of Burma”! On the Zazzle design-it-yourself website, a number of Birman owners have made US Postage stamps from photos of their cats. And, the cats are featured on commemorative stamps in countries from Congo to New Zealand.

I wasn’t always a cat person.

My affection for felines began when our son was 6 and my wife announced, “He needs a cat.”

My wife was an only child and had a special bond with her cats. Our son is an only child, and my wife felt it would be beneficial for him, too. When we told him we were going to get him a cat, he was so happy he burst into tears. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the human-animal bond, including its relevance for our values.

And, by the way, did you know that sharing our lives with animals yields health benefits?

We looked for a breed that was sociable, gentle, quiet and companionable—settling on Birmans, known as the Sacred Cats of Burma.  From the moment we got the cat, I observed the evolution of a boy-cat bond that supports what biologist Marc Bekoff writes in his latest book, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation. This book is a remarkable collection of Bekoff’s columns from Psychology Today about the latest research into animals, their psychological and emotional lives, and human attitudes toward animals.

One thing I’ve learned, for example, is that a cat can get depressed. We saw that whenever we went on a trip and had someone stop in regularly to feed the cat. Sociable animals need companions and we realized that our responsibility was to provide one. So, we got a second Birman, half-brother to the first, and the depression never reappeared.

Our animal companions also produce benefits for our emotional and physical well-being. Bekoff cites a 10-year study with the astonishing conclusion that having cats helps prevent death from heart attacks! “Those who owned a cat were 40 percent less likely to die from heart attacks than those who had no feline in their lives,” he writes, summarizing the study.

Do dogs have the same effect?  They don’t, according to the study.  Dogs, of course, have other beneficial effects on our lives.

What have you learned from your animal companions?

Are you surprised to learn that cats reduce death from heart attacks?

What benefits have you observed?

Want to learn more about Marc Bekoff’s work?

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Marc about his new book and this emerging field of research in this week’s cover story.

Valuable Objects: What’s the significance of an Eagle Scout badge?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Valuable Objects
Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks about his Eagle Scout BadgeAll of us have objects in our lives that convey meaning and significance. These objects tell stories about our values and how we acquired them. The stories remind us that values are not abstractions, but emotionally invested principles that shape our lives.

So, what values are conveyed in an Eagle Scout badge?

Yesterday, OurValues staff met with a group of men and women to discuss values—and the objects that signify them. We asked each person to bring a physical object that conveyed their values and how they acquired them growing up. The stories they told were a mixture of love, poignancy, joy, sadness, hope, and resilience amidst trials and tribulations. All were inspirational.

We’ll discuss some of their stories this week, starting with Jim Jeffries and his Eagle Scout badge.

First, a little background: Eagle Scout is the highest attainable rank in the Boy Scouts of America. The requirements are arduous, and all must be completed before the boy turns 18 years of age. The requirements, according to the BSA site, include “merit badges, service project, active participation, Scout spirit, position of responsibility, and unit leader conference.” Only about 5% of Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts.

Leaders in many fields of American life proudly list, among their accomplishments, having earned the badge, including more than 40 U.S. astronauts, outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

What values does an Eagle Scout learn? There are many. Here’s Jim’s story: He was a Boy Scout in Maryland, where they stressed camping and backpacking. “When you start as an 11 year old, and do all that stuff,” Jim said, “it really gives you a sense of independence and self-confidence.”

When he was a young teen, Jim and friends would take some significant backpacking trips to the White Mountains. “You really learn a lot when you throw a 50-pound pack on your back and you start walking through the woods for a week and you come out on the other end. You can get hurt out there if you are not careful, so it really teaches you a lot of things.”

I recall hiking (and surviving) the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains, and I know what Jim is talking about.

So, for Jim, his Eagle Badge represents the core American values of self-reliance and achievement.

This week, I am inviting all readers of OurValues:

What object in your life tells a story about your values?

Please, take a moment to add a Comment, below. And invite friends to read along. Use the blue-”f” Facebook icon or the small envelope-shaped email icon.