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Man's best friend provides emotional support

For nearly 15,000 years, possibly more, dogs shared their lives with humans. They've become part of the family, our protectors, buddies and even our helpers around the house and yes even at work. In fact, according to the United States Human Society , 39% of American households have one or more dogs while 34% have one or more cats. However for millions of Americans something as simple as owning a pet can become a major part of their overall health and welfare.

These beautiful dogs have found forever homes with loving humans
These beautiful dogs have found forever homes with loving humans
Louis "Kengi" Carr
Dodger, chilling on the sofa
Louis "Kengi" Carr Photography

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that every nine and half minutes someone in the United States contracts HIV. Meaning there are over 56,000 new HIV infections each year and more than 14,000 people die from AIDS complications each year in the United States.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infections. Studies have been proven to show that people diagnosed with HIV are more likely to develop depression than the general population. Because depression affects your brain and behavior, it also affects your entire body and this can cause problems with staying adherent to treatment guidelines for people living with HIV or AIDS as well as quality of life issues and overall lifespan.

One of the three primary goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy is "increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV". Many people living with HIV or AIDS are now accessing alternative therapies to deal with depression caused by HIV such as Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or as it is commonly called "talk therapy" whereby a person is taught to identify negative thoughts and behaviors that can trigger depression. Hypnotherapy a form of psychotherapy used to create unconscious change in the form of new responses, thoughts, attitudes, behaviors which help promote coping skills. Even yoga and acupuncture play vital roles in helping a person living with HIV or AIDS live a more stress free life.

But dogs have played very important roles in the lives of people living with HIV or AIDS because they offer something none of these very effective treatments can....emotional support and companionship.Yes, our four legged friends are more than just a ball of fur.

Studies have shown the dramatic overall health benefits of owning a pet while living with HIV and dealing with depression. Dogs provide therapeutic support to the owner through companionship, non-judgmental positive regard, affection, and a focus in life. Other health benefits include

* lower cholesterol
* lower blood pressure
* lower triglyceride
* reduced stress levels
* reduced feelings of loneliness
* better mental health
* increased activity
* more opportunities for exercise
* more time spent outdoors (for dog owners especially)
* more opportunities for socialization

These overall health benefits also apply to those who are not living with HIV. For example Tabitha says her 3 year old boxer "helps me focus on home" Tabitha is a busy Hypnotherapist just starting her business and is always running around but says "Knowing that I have a sweet loving four legged creature waiting for me at home reminds me to come home, relax and enjoy the simple things."

Kevin, an elderly gentleman living with HIV and depression says "since Lucy came into my life I've met new friends, I'm walking more, eating better, my blood pressure has been under control and I've even been taken off the three depression drugs I was on." Lucy is a 3 year old rescue "but it is her who has rescued me. Having her in my life has made a world of difference. It feels so wonderful when people tell me I look good or comment on the weight I've lost"

"I was afraid to leave home until Chuck" says Kelia who lives on Skid Row in Downtown LA. "I live in HIV housing, but they do not provide any support. Truth be told, they told me I could not have a dog and would have to move if I got one. But I could not continue to live the way I was, afraid to leave my room and terrified of being homeless again."

At the time she had no idea she could have an Emotional Support Animal. (ESA) If a doctor comes to determine that a patient with a disabling mental illness, HIV or AIDS could benefit and improve their overall health and quality of life from the companionship of an emotional support animal, the doctor write letters supporting a request by the patient to keep the ESA in "no pets" housing or to travel with the ESA in the cabin of an aircraft.

"I walk Chuck at 7 in the morning, the 11:30 in the morning and at 2 in the afternoon we walk over to the little park on Spring so he can play with his friends. Then our last walk is around 6 or 7 in the evening. Folks see us and they always say to me that I smile more and seem more happy. Chuck gave me back my dignity and love for life. I haven't miss a dosage of my HIV medications since I've had him and I dont take any blood pressure medications or anti-depressants. I feel more present because he loves me."

Senator George Graham Vest, of Missouri said it best when he stated "The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens."

To help people living with HIV or AIDS as well as individuals with a life threatening illness properly provide nutritional food and medical care for their Emotional Support Animals is an awesome Los Angeles based organization called PAWS LA.

(Website) PAWS/LA is dedicated to preserving the loving bond between people and their companion animals. To that end, we provide services to assist low-income seniors and people disabled by a life-threatening illness keep and care for their pets. PAWS/LA was founded in 1989 in response to the companion animal-related crises faced by residents of Los Angeles county who were financially and physically debilitated by HIV/AIDS. Since that time, the agency has expanded its scope to assist low-income seniors and any low-income individual disabled by a life-threatening illness. PAWS/LA currently serves more than 1,700 disenfranchised animal guardians and their 2,000+ companion animals.

For more information on the American's with Disabilities Act, please visit: ADA

For more information of the Fair Housing Act, please visit the United States Department of Justice

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