Decades of research show that volunteer activity is significantly associated with multiple health benefits, both psychological (higher levels of happiness and self-esteem, lower levels of stress and depression) and physical (improved cognition, decreased mortality)*.

What’s more, studies show that interacting with animals decreases blood pressure as well as perceived stress, perhaps through stimulating oxytocin release (the hormone associated with love)*.

So what could be better for you than cuddling a rescue kitten?

For the past several years, I’ve spent my Thursday mornings with the cats of our local animal shelter. I sometimes hesitate to mention this work because I’m afraid people will think I’m just touting my good deeds, and will walk away grumbling Goody-two-shoes show-off!

But today, I feel compelled to share my experience and the science behind it.

Why?

Because, people, this s**t works. Better than drugs: legal, and no side effects. Total win-win situation here.

And I feel this way even when there aren’t chunky purrry snuggly kittens. As a matter of fact, my job necessarily involves cleaning litter boxes and wiping down cages, as well as petting and playing with the  cats. It’s dirty, and they’re not always friendly… but the work is always gratifying.

It’s worth prioritizing volunteer activity in our lives, because WE can benefit as much as the animals/ people/ organization.

No time? Not buying that one. I’m a working mom. It’s not about time, it’s about priorities.

I put this out there for folks who may be feeling stressed, depressed, unfulfilled, jaded, burned out…

Consider volunteer work. Look at a few different options. I tried several before I settled in at the animal shelter. It just FELT right to me. Yes it’s smelly, dirty, messy work, and yes I’ve been hissed at and scratched, but it’s as sacred to me as church. The little time I spend there and the menial tasks I do take on a meaning beyond my ability to explain.

You’ll just have to try it!

This is an approximately 4 1/2 week old kitten (one of four) who is purring loudly as he burrows into my neck. He just wouldn’t cooperate for the photo!

 

Mama kitty is very sweet; loads of head-butts and demands for ear scratches. She will make a lovely housecat!

*And, PLEASE don’t contact the shelter about these particular chunky purrry snuggly kittens yet. They have to weigh at least two pounds before they can go to a home, and I think they need another two or three weeks.

 

Selected references:

Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms. Yeung JWK, Zhang Z, Kim TY. BMC Public Health. 2017 Jul 11;18(1):8. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4561-8.

Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. Jenkinson CE1, Dickens AP, Jones K, Thompson-Coon J, Taylor RS, Rogers M, Bambra CL, Lang I, Richards SH.

Animal-Assisted Interventions in the Classroom-A Systematic Review. Brelsford VL, Meints K, Gee NR, Pfeffer K. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Jun 22;14(7). pii: E669. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14070669. Review.

Pet ownership and physical health. Matchock RL. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015 Sep;28(5):386-92. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000183.

Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk reduction: supporting evidence, conflicting data and underlying mechanisms. Arhant-Sudhir K1, Arhant-Sudhir R, Sudhir K. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2011 Nov;38(11):734-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1681.2011.05583.x.