NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A black-and-white photo of Alan Beck is available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096.
The book by Alan M. Beck of Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine and Aaron H. Katcher, psychiatrist and professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, explores the emotional and physical benefits of owning a pet and analyzes the complex relationship between people and pets. The first edition was published in 1983.
"The study of the importance of the relationship between people and animals is a growing field and has the potential to be part of the whole human-health field," says Beck, director of Purdue's Center for Applied Ethology and Human-Animal Interaction. "The social milieu on where animals fit into society has really changed in the last 13 years. We've gone from recognizing the potential of animals being a significant positive contribution to certain populations, such as the elderly, to actual documentation."
Beck and Katcher note a 1992 study by an Australian cardiologist of 5,000 people who visited a clinic to find ways to reduce heart disease. The study found that people with pets had lower blood pressure and lower blood fat levels than those without pets, even though the two groups were alike in diet and exercise.
The authors also point to the trend by nursing homes to incorporate animals into the routine and environment for patients. For example, in the early 1980s nursing homes typically did not allow pets to visit patients, while today nearly half of the homes have an organized program for animal therapy, Beck says.
In addition to exploring physical benefits, the book covers such topics as pets as family members, pets as therapists, talking to pets, and how pets can teach us to become better companions to friends and family. The book also has a list of Web sites by such organizations as Canine Companions for Independence and the American Kennel Club.
While pets provide health benefits, they can create problems, Beck and Katcher say. "There is no medicine that doesn't have some side effects," Beck says. For example, more pet ownership has public-health implications such as more dog bites, he notes. And some people whose pets die grieve to the point of illness, he says.
But grief over the loss of an animal is not new, Beck says. Ancient Egyptians shaved their eyebrows after their cats died, and the Roman emperor Caligula had his horse entombed.
Animal ownership also is big business, according to the authors. Americans own more than 500 million pets, from dogs and cats to birds and reptiles, and spend more than $14 billion a year on their care and feeding and another $5 million on accessories such as leashes and toys.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of the best-seller "The Hidden Life of Dogs," wrote the foreword to the book, published by Purdue Press. She wrote: "Here then is a book that explores the cross-species relationship in all its ramifications. No longer are pets seen as one kind of thing and people as another, and no longer are pets studied in a vastly different way than people are studied. We belong together, our species and theirs. We should be viewed together."
Beck came to Purdue in 1990 to head the Center for Applied Ethology and Human-Animal Interaction. Ethology is the study of how animals behave, usually in their natural environment. He also is the Dorothy N. McAllister Professor of Animal Ecology. Ecology is the study of the interaction between organisms and their environment.
Before coming to Purdue, Beck directed the Center for the Integration of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania and was director of animal programs for the New York City Department of Health.
Katcher continues some work at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school, but spends most of his time in research at the Devereaux Foundation, Brandywine, Pa. The foundation offers residential treatment of severely disturbed children.
The 316-page book is available for $14.95 from Purdue Press, 1532 South Campus Courts-E, West Lafayette, Ind. 47907-1532, telephone (765) 494-2038.
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