At a young age, Joy Henderson’s love for animals had no bounds. The Winter Park resident of more than 50 years was kept from owning dogs because of her severe allergies to canines, but this proved to be the furthest thing from a challenge for the spirited, active animal lover.
“I kept exposing myself to animals at friends’ houses and rode horses. I was defiant,” she says. “I never said, I’m allergic. I can’t pet your dog. Ever. I was more like I don’t care I’m allergic.”
And that determination would ultimately pay off in Henderson’s favor. She would eventually overcome her allergies, leading her to own and foster dogs for the next 33 years. Today, she lovingly dotes on her 2 year old Rottweiler, 9-year-old Tibetan Spaniel, and two German Shepherds, ages 10 and 11, revealing the many health benefits she reaps from pet ownership that have enriched and challenged her.
“There is comfort and love in their company, an unconditional love, and it’s something to nurture because I don’t have children,” Henderson says. “It’s also about companionship, love, and discipline. It does take discipline along with training. Training is so important.”
Henderson, who is also an instructor at the Crosby Wellness Center, relates her fitness experience to her love and care of her animals. Both promote overall health and well-being. Personally for her, self-care and self-discipline are most significant and she believes she has learned a lot from her experiences of caring for and training her dogs.
Henderson notes that she walks her dogs every day. “We take a couple of mile walks daily. I used to run with my dogs when they were younger. The German Shepherds are good for running but Rottweilers are not really built for running. When I exercise with [my pets], there’s endorphin production and there’s dopamine production which is very beneficial for mental health. Essentially it’s the exercise, the companionship, the comfort and everything that comes with it, the whole experience is a win-win.”
Henderson, who is also a mental health therapist feels that her dogs have greatly impacted her overall wellbeing.
“Dogs can really help regulate emotions, so can any animal really,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a dog. “The companionship, the physical presence of an animal is soothing to the nervous system. There is a peace that comes with petting an animal and their closeness.” Henderson considers this peacefulness as a spiritual component of her relationship with her dogs. She smiled and said “after all you know, Dog spelled backwards is God.”
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), an estimated 78 million dogs are owned as pets in the United States. Ongoing research shows that the health benefits of owning a canine companion are vast and undeniable. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, dog owners have lower blood pressure, healthier cholesterol levels, and a lower risk of heart disease, than non-owners.
The Power of Pets
Like Joy has found, pets have the power to make us happier and healthier in mind, body, and spirit. This spring, the Center for Health & Wellbeing is offering special programs focused on the incredible ways our pets support our wellbeing in several different ways. Click here to discover our upcoming “Power of Pets” Community Education Programs.