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Deirdre Joseph Flanagan Ward Dog
Jul 13, 2018

The Human-Animal Bond

Diane Grigg Finley

Deirdre Joseph Flanagan Ward Dog

Deirdre and Joseph Ward with their old pup, Duff.

‘Our Best Friends’ introductory feature is a spotlight on the bond between humans and animals, and more importantly those lovable creatures we call ‘our best friends.’

The human-animal bond is like no other. The physical relationship we have with animal’s changes us for the better. We become more tolerant and accepting. We interact with people we might otherwise walk away from. We are more empathic, sympathetic and kind.

By sharing our world with animals, we look outside ourselves. We realize we are not alone, but in it together. I can’t imagine not living with my five cats and one dog. They bring so much pure love and light to the family. My children have had animals living with us their entire lives. We have multiple bird families, squirrels, a raccoon, skunks – even an occasional turkey – that visit us or live on our property. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Animals make us better people. I am OK with that.


The term Human-Animal Bond was officially recognized during a lecture in Vienna in 1983 by veterinarian and dean of the veterinary school at Washington St. University, Leo K. Bustard. He was one of the founders of the Delta Society, which in the 1970s and 1980s focused on the importance of the human-animal bond. The society’s mission was to help lead the world in advancing human health and well-being through the positive interactions with animals. This mission continues today.

During that same time period, psychologist Boris Levinson, known as the father of Animal Assisted Therapy, noticed that uncommunicative children relaxed and interacted positively around dogs. He theorized that the interaction between the children and the animals had distinct therapeutic effects. The benefits of these interactions eventually paved the way for the rise in service and therapy animals.

The fact that an uncommunicative child can be drawn out by the mere presence and interaction with a dog irrefutably points to the intensity of the gentle energy these animals possess. Service dogs have been helping people on many levels to gain independence and acceptance in a world that might not be welcoming to their disability. Soldiers with PTSD and depressive suicidal thoughts have had their quality of life positively improved by an animal buddy. Equine therapy has opened up the world for children as well as adults suffering from a variety of emotional and physical issues.

Therapy and service animals include many other species as well. Primates, pigs, even dolphins are used in diverse ways to advance human health and well-being. Abused children have greatly benefited from interacting with chickens that were also abused and have an innate sense of calm. The list goes on. The bond continues.

The domestication of animals has given millions of us a front row seat to the benefits of the human-animal bond. No greater love exists between a human and their animal companions. They go everywhere with us, or they are patiently waiting for our return so they can shower us with their unique form of unconditional love.

We go through so much in our lives: births, deaths, tragedies, and happy times. Each step of the way, a cat, dog, bird, fish, snake or other animal is there to tell us it’s OK, we are not alone. They share it all with us. How many times have we felt sick, tired, depressed, and our beloved companions know exactly what we need? A snuggle, a lick, just the right thing to remind us how special we are and to stay in the moment.

The bond we have with animals is a connection shared globally. We can all cite horrific examples of animal cruelty, but I prefer to think in a more positive way. People who accept and love animals in their care are true examples of humanity. Rescuers, rehabilitators, and people who dedicate a portion of their lives for the betterment of all animals are part of that wonderfully human group.

Did you rescue a dog or cat from a shelter? From a horrific existence? Do you spay/neuter your animals to increase their life span and decrease the population? Euthanasia rates among shelter animals are alarming. So many of these animals, with a bit more insight and rehabilitation, would make wonderful companions. They are so grateful for the second chance. They enrich our lives on many levels.

The year 2017 bore witness to the extraordinary bond we have with animals. Fires, hurricanes, floods, all types of disasters brought together thousands of volunteers who helped animals find safety, comfort and homes. It was an amazing effort. During the horrific fires in California, 19-year-old Oscar Gonzalez bravely stopped his car to help a rabbit and her two babies get to the other side of the road where there were no flames. Dubbed the “Mystery Animal Lover”, Gonzalez instinctively knew he had to help. This story and countless others strengthen the belief that our bond with animals lifts us out of our “woe is me” and opens our hearts to the uniqueness of the connection. Does it make our life better? Yes. Does it make animals lives better? Yes. A win-win.