Throughout history man has exhibited a strong tendency to surround himself with pets of virtually every kind. From dogs and cats to ants and insects, birds, snakes, and fish. Some people even consider plants very much like pets.

It is easy to see the utility that animals have had for man throughout history when they perform work that relieves the chores of humans. But pets don't do that, do they? Pets are things that we wind up working for! We take care of them, we buy them expensive food, we pay large medical bills to keep them healthy. Are they worth it?

They certainly must be. There have been more experiments recently where animals were taken from local dog pounds and given to elderly patients in nursing homes, children in orphanages, and other special groups. Practically every time this is done there is an observed improvement (usually dramatic) in the attitudes and morale of the people involved. Elderly people seem to liven up and become "younger," healthier, and have improved mental outlooks. Children become enlivened, delinquent or bad behavior is reduced, and they become much more manageable by the adult staff. What all of this is saying is that pets have a very therapeutic effect on the mental health of their owners. I think that this deserves some sort of an explanation.

Think of your own relationship with your dog or your cat or your parakeet. The pet takes on a "personality". You cannot interact with an animal without inferring what the animal thinks or feels. If you think that you can do that, try it out, but you will fail. In this and other ways the human tends to think of his pet as another "person" that he is involved with in some interpersonal interaction. I don't expect to get much of an argument on this point but the real question is why would pets be so valuable in this regard since there are plenty of people with whom we can interact as well. While there may be several answers to this question, there is one that seems to me to be very important. Pets, unlike other people, have only the capacity to show love and acceptance. They do not show us rejection. This makes them very safe to love, particularly by people who are very sensitive to getting rejection from other people.

The elderly in nursing homes or children in orphanage programs would be examples of groups that are very sensitive to rejection from others. But to some extent, aren't we all?

Give your dog an extra scratch behind the ear for me…….

……and think about it.