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January 2006

A monthly newsletter dedicated to serving the principles of
physical and spiritual health envisioned in the Baha'i Teachings.

Volume 10, Issue No. 1: The Healing Powers of Pets
- Quote of the month
- From the Editor
- This Month's Theme: The Healing Powers of Pets
- Links for further information
- A Better Good-bye
- Question of the Month
- Health in the News
- Purpose of the Newsletter
- Subscription Information
- Web Site
- Web Log


February: Music - Sustenance for the Soul. How has music improved your health? Send your recommendations and experiences.

March: The Importance of Celebrations. What kinds and how do you and your family use them to make life better?

April: Feed the Creative to Heal the Body and Mind. What arts and activities inspire you?

May: Nurture the Spirit for Better Health. Retreats, walks, music, poetry,
prayer: what makes you feel refreshed and energized?

June: Coping with Catastrophe. Share spiritual resources.


"...One can hardly imagine what a great influence genuine love, truthfulness and purity of motives exert on the souls of men. But these traits cannot be acquired by any believer unless he makes a daily effort to gain them..."

(Shoghi Effendi, from a letter dated 19 December 1923, quoted as part of #1267, in the compilation "Living the Life")


Dear Readers,

How animals effect human health is an enormously broad topic, encompassing such diverse areas as agriculture, sports, ecology, religion, economics, entertainment, disease, evolution, and psychology. There are just hundreds of issues over which it is possible to take sides and argue!

There is, however, a growing perception in the media that people who keep animals as pets are healthier than those who do not. Most pet owners agree, even those for whom living with an animal to which they are allergic can cause health problems!

The research is equivocal enough to allow for both pet lovers and those less enthusiastic about critters underfoot to claim their views have proved correct.

The Delta Society (USA), for instance, is a provider and supporter of service animals for the handicapped human. They quote a number of studies that show loving human/pet relationships can result in physical improvement in blood pressure and other measures of stress, including mental illness.
(Website below in Links)

However, Jon Katz, in his recent book, "The New Work of Dogs," worries that what pet owners are asking animals to do -- and be -- is beyond what is healthy for people or pets. Those demands, and resulting disappointments, are the cause of the steady rise of homeless former pets in the US and UK.

Many of you will have lived with pet animals, often in the house with you.
But not all of our readership is comfortable even thinking about cats or dogs living indoors with them, let alone rabbits, pigs, birds, pigmy goats, miniature horses, and an increasing number of even more exotic creatures.

In some parts of the world, animals are considered so unclean that they are barred from any building in which people live and do business, or hold religious services. There is research, not to mention historical evidence, supporting this position, too.

Therefore, the articles and references in this issue of Healing Through Unity eNewsletter offer some of the latest information, but are not meant to be taken as support for a particular point of view.

The Baha'i Writings make it clear that Baha'is are to respect and treat animals with no less compassion than we are to care for our fellow human beings. There are, however, no specific 'pet' laws.

"Briefly, it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel.

"Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let the children try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests."

('Abdu'l-Baha, "Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha," p.158-9)."

So, whether you are a big fan of puppy kisses -- or shudder at the thought -- perhaps simply learning about the other side may ease communication.

In this age of transition, there is room for all of us, and it may soon be discovered that multiple sides of the issue are right... or wrong ... or aspects of both.

Cheryll Schuette, Michigan, USA


According to a recent American Veterinary Medical Association survey, 63 percent of all American households have at least one pet. A similar report from the UK found something over 60% of British families have pets.

There is a growing body of literature that supports the fact that people with pets in their lives feel better. Some of that literature is based on standard, double blind studies -- and much more comes from volumes of personal experience and anecdotal collections.

"Psychiatric Times" online has a short article pretty much covering the scientific literature at .

In particular, pets appear to work on our hearts...pun intended. The presence of a pet is associated with decreased cardiovascular reactivity, which means that the influence of a pet helps stabilize blood vessels and heart rhythm. Research at Brooklyn College has shown that pets slow heart rate even among highly stressed, high-intensity type A personalities.

Pets of all kinds lower blood pressure. Petting a dog has been shown to decrease the blood pressure of healthy college students, hospitalized elderly people, and adults with high blood pressure.

When bird owners talk to their birds, their blood pressure drops an average of ten points. Watching fish in an aquarium has been shown to bring blood pressure below resting levels. Research has also shown that when children are sitting quietly and reading, their blood pressure is lower when a dog is in the room, whether they are touching it or not.

Dr. Christiane Northrup, in her book, "The Wisdom of Menopause," has a chapter on living with heart, passion and joy, which includes the importance of pets.

She warns, however, "Though animals can't offer all the different types of support that we humans need, they still provide companionship, security, and a feeling of being needed. They also help connect us to the world around us and give us a focus outside ourselves -- which is very helpful for those who suffer from depression."

She quotes Larry Dossey, M.D., an internist who has extensively researched the healing power of prayer, who refers to animals as "four-legged prayer."

Author and animal behavior consultant, Temple Grandin, is autistic, which is what she thinks has made her successful in spite of handicaps communicating with people. She says, "Animal behavior was the right field for me, because what I was missing in social understanding I could make up for in understanding animals. Today I've published over three hundred scientific papers, my Web site gets five thousand visitors each month, and I give thirty-five lectures on animal management a year. I give another twenty-five or so on autism, so I'm on the road most of the time. Half the cattle in the united States and Canada are handled in humane slaughter systems I've designed."

She considers animals as akin to autistic savants, and her observations of how animals think and how autism affects human thinking have resulted in breakthroughs that have improved daily life for both.

One of the areas most studied measures the ways that pets might improve health includes biochemical changes. "A dog's oxytocin levels rise when his owner pets him, and petting his dog raises the owner's oxytocin, too. It is possible that dogs make humans into nicer people and better parents because oxytocin is important to humans.

"When women have babies their oxytocin levels shoot up right before birth, and research shows that those high levels spark maternal warmth and care.  Oxytocin produces caring 'maternal' behavior in men, too. So for parents,"
Ms. Grandin maintains, "owning and petting a dog is probably like getting a 'good parent' shot every day. Dogs are probably good for marriage for the same reason." (Temple Grandin, "Animals in Translation," p. 108)

Other research is showing that there is more than just chemistry going on here. Bruce Headey (Australia) conducted a large-scale survey of more than 11,000 Australians, Chinese and Germans over a five year period which showed that pet owners made 15-20% fewer annual visits to the doctor than non pet-owners.

A survey of 500 cat owners over 55 years old, conducted by Cats Protection in the UK, showed that 82% felt their cat helped them overcome feelings of stress, 62% said having cat helped overcome feelings of loneliness. The same survey also looked at 100 younger cat owners aged 13 and under. Of these, 80% said the cat helped them get on better with family and friends, 81% would rather chat with the cat about their feelings, and 87% regarded the cat as a close friend.

Project POOCH (Positive Opportunities, Obvious Change, with Hounds), a study of therapeutic power of dog interaction in a prison setting, showed 100% of teenage offenders following a dog therapy program did not return to the correction system upon release.

There are currently several similar programs in the United States for adult prisoners, utilizing even men serving life sentences in socializing and training homeless dogs provided by Humane Societies so that the dogs can be made ready for adoption. Not only are the dogs benefiting, but the prisoners improve their emotional and physical health, as well. The bond formed recreates and improves both man and animal.

One important characteristic of those people who have animals in their lives as pets, is their common perception that their pets love them. "He/she is the only one who is always glad to see me no matter what."

For religion, the primary point of creation is that God loved, that all creation comes from that love, and that we are loved unconditionally.

"I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life."
(Baha'u'llah, "The Hidden Words," p. 4)

The Baha'i Teachings point out, however, that as the created cannot encompass the creator, 'knowing' that love can be a challenge. Most of the laws and ordinances, then, provide the guidance necessary to assist each of us to feel that unconditional love for which we hunger and to reassure us that we are worthy of that love.

"My love in My stronghold; he that entereth therein is safe and secure, and he that turneth away shall surely stray and perish." (ibid)

Perhaps the secret that pet owners have discovered is that animals can help us in those endeavors. Certainly a great deal of research has been done that shows the positive effects on health that accrue from the perception of being loved. (See May & June 2005 issues of Healing Through Unity eNewsletter for references.)

Jon Katz, in the prologue to his book, "The Dogs of Bedlam Farm," reports that a dog trainer once told him, "Face it: if you want to have a better dog, you will just have to be a better human." He confesses that though it surprised him, it was true that anger, impatience, impulsiveness, frustration, an inability to watch and listen, were enormous problems in his life -- and only his helpless love for this screwy dog could cause him to undertake such an overhaul.

"I've come to see my dogs as a reflection of my willingness to try to improve, as well as an unsparing measure of my frequent failure to do so."  "Orson," he says of a rescued border collie who came to him with severe behavior problems, "is a different dog than the frantic, matted, and terrified creature who arrived ... several years ago. He is calmer, more responsive, more loving -- the result, I'm convinced, of my struggle to learn and grow and to be more patient, less angry. For better or worse, I see Orson's progress ... as a mirror of my own humanity, a benchmark of my progress. Or lack thereof."

Love is probably the major motivation and sustaining force for self-improvement. Ideally, we are loved, we love others, we love God, we love ourselves. Without fully developing any one of those aspects of love and loving, our physical/spiritual/mental health suffers. Improve any one, and we can improve the others, and our overall health.

Religion tells us to love God and God's creation (including our relatives, coworkers, and neighbors), but some days, maybe it takes a loving pet to remind us of our priorities...and help us do what it takes to become better people.

"... unless we practice the Teachings we cannot possibly expect the Faith to grow, because the fundamental purpose of all religions--including our own--is to bring man nearer to God, and to change his character, which is of the utmost importance."

(From a letter dated 6 September 1946 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, quoted as #1131 in the compilation, "Living the Life")


Effects on human health:

* has a variety of information supporting their commitment to improving human health through training and use of service animals, primarily dogs. Includes links to some of the research.

* Life Wise Programs has a resource page

* The UK Pet Health Council has an article on human health benefits in owning a pet:

* The Humane Society of the US

* A scholarly review of the literature on pet ownership and human health, a brief review of evidence and issues:

* "The New Work of Dogs," John Katz. Villard, 2003. He has a new book coming out in 2006: "Women and Dogs," exploring why it is that so many breeders, veterinarians and dog owners are now female.

* "Animals in Translation," Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson. Harcourt, 2005. The animal info website: The autism website:

* How to give comfort to a grieving person: A good site for whatever the loss might be, and often the loss of a pet is the least likely to generate understanding and compassion.

* Pet loss support:

* Virtual Pet Cemetery -- a ten year old and growing memorial site associated with the best known online memorial for people:

Resources for pet health:



* offers information and leaflets in MS Word documents that take a long time to download and are not particularly detailed. However, registered members (free) have access to an online resource library and can ask questions of 'experts.'

* For a good book that includes the philosophy that to train a good dog, one needs to first train one's self to be a better person: "Bones Would Rain from the Sky: deepening our relationships with dogs," Suzanne Clothier.
Warner Books, 2002 has a number of articles free, in addition to calendar of seminars and books and videos.

by Leslie Bean
(from a Yahoo pets group on the Web)

For the many years I worked at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center where pet visitation was prohibited. I begged, pleaded, and cajoled to have the rules changed, but always got back the same answer -- NO!

So, I resorted to sneaking in the tiny furry ones for our patients who were never coming out. At least they, and their beloved pets, could see each other one last time.

One morning, the Head Nurse on one of the units paged me to let me know that the parents of a 28 year old man were insistent that they HAD to bring his 14 year old Yorkshire Terrier to visit him, as he was dying. She wanted to warn me that they might complain about her to me, because the parents did not seem to accept the nurse's explanation of the rules.

The parents did indeed come to my office. They were not angry. Their grief had taken them past that. They were at the point of accepting what they could see so clearly was happening, although they were deeply sad.

They explained that their son and his dog had been inseparable since he was
14 years old and [she was] a puppy. The dog was back at the motel, where they had been living for the past 2 months while their only child was receiving experimental treatment for stage 4 Lymphoma.

They didn't raise voices, or threaten. They stated their case with their hearts, which were breaking. Before they finished, I asked them how big she was, and if she was noisy. I found out she weighed 4 pounds and never barked.

We plotted a strategy, and before long, Dad had returned to the motel and brought the dog to me outside the hospital. I explained to the little dog that she would need to hide under my jacket and be very quiet... [With her tucked] away from sight, we hurried through the halls and up the elevators to the young man's room.

...The patient was very, very weak. His bed elevated his upper body at 45 degrees. IV tubes an infusion pump dominated his left arm. When we entered the room I placed the Yorkie on the bed on his left side.

Her whole body trembled with happiness and she made tiny cries of joy as she quickly moved up to his neck and buried her nose under his chin. Her little tail was wagging so hard.

Then, this young man, who had been semi-comatose for days, very, very slowly and laboriously, lifted his right arm and moved it painfully across his chest to rest on his dog, as he just as slowly turned his head to her. A tear trickled down his cheek.

My composure was gone. It is a scene I will never forget. The sight of absolute love, reunited. There was nothing else in the world that mattered to them, or frankly, to me, at that moment. The expression on his face, along with his parents, and that amazing little dog, are forever burned into my heart.

Before I left I told them to call me immediately if anyone challenged them. Moreover, I'd take the dog back out to the car myself when they left. I dropped by to visit the nurse and reminded her of a few things she "owed me"
and told her I was cashing in. Then I paged the physician in charge, who also owed me some "favors," and made certain he was aware and free of blame.

The patient rallied the next day, after having spent several hours with his best friend the day before. He and his parents were able to talk for the first time in days.

The dog rallied, too. They said it was the first she'd eaten in 3 days.

When I visited again, the young man was alert, and the dog was sleeping peacefully, curled between his shoulder and chin. There was a peace in that room that had not been there before.

The next day, in the wee hours of the morning before the sun rose, the young man breathed his last breath. When his parents left, they hugged me until I was certain my ribs would break, and we all cried together. They told me that for as long as they lived I would be in their prayers. Those couple of days were the best hours they had with him in weeks. They had said their goodbyes.

Later, I learned that little Yorkie, too, died on that very same day. Like her beloved master, she slipped away. I know they went together. Several days later my boss called and asked me about something he needed and before he hung up he said, "Leslie, I know about the dog."

"What dog?" I replied.

"Leslie, I know about the dogs. Could you just let me know ahead of time when you do these things, so that I'll be expecting the calls, OK?"

With a huge smile on my face, I said, "I can do that!" It was as much a sanction as I'd ever get, and I was grateful for it.


The Top Seven Ways to Lose Ten Pounds Overnight

7. Remove your ten-pound ankle weights before going to bed.

6. Shave your head (this assumes you have lots of heavy hair).

5. Donate a 10-pound bag of sugar to a food pantry.

4. Move somewhere with less gravity.

3. Donate a few major organs.

2. Remove your cat from his sleeping spot on your face.

1. Give birth.

(Leigh Anne Jasheway, "Don't Get Mad, Get Funny! A light-hearted approach to stress management," pp. 90-1)


- Dogs as Good as Screening for Cancer Detection (Kurt Kleiner, from the
11:24 09 January 2006, news service)

Dogs do as well as state-of-the-art screening tests at sniffing out people with lung or breast cancer. The research raises the possibility that trained dogs could detect cancers even earlier and might some day supplement or even replace mammograms and CT scans in the laboratory.

Two previous studies have shown that dogs seem to be able to sniff out melanomas and bladder cancer. The idea is not outrageous. Cancer patients have been shown to have traces of chemicals -- like alkanes and benzene derivatives -- in their breath, and other studies have shown dogs can detect chemicals in concentrations as small as a few parts per trillion.

So researchers at the Pine Street Foundation in San Anselmo, California, US, selected three Labrador retrievers and two Portuguese water dogs with no previous training, and over several weeks trained them using breath samples that had been exhaled into tubes by cancer patients.

The dogs correctly detected 99% of the lung cancer samples, and made a mistake with only 1% of the healthy controls. With breast cancer, they correctly detected 88% of the positive samples, and made a mistake on only 2% of the controls.

The work is convincing, says James C Walker, director of the Florida State University Sensory Research Institute in Tallahassee, US. In 2004 Walker and colleagues showed that dogs could sniff out melanomas. He says that the next step is to see if dogs are really detecting cancer, or if they might be sensing a more general disease symptom, such as one that comes from inflammation.

Journal reference: Integrative Cancer Therapies (vol 5, p 1)

- Dog and Cat Radio?

"Jumpy enough to chew a chair? Try DogCatRadio." So invites a New York Times article in November 2005, about a new Internet radio station for pets.  Now dogs, cats, hamsters and parrots can keep the anxiety, the loneliness, the restlessness at bay while their owners are out. It is radio just for them, live 17 hours a day, 4am to 9pm, Pacific time, and podcast for the rest of the 24 hours.

Apart from the fact that the station founder and owner, Adrian Martinez, says his cat, Snickers, asked him to do it, this is a legitimate venture.
Appreciated, too, at least by pet owners with computers, who make more than 8000 hits a week on the site. scroll down past the advertisements (which partly pay for this free service) to the 'Tune In'


- Help with toxic black mold

I became ill because of the mold a little over a year ago. It has wreaked havoc on my physical being. I have lesions on both retinas and have been told by experts that the mycotoxins from the mold imbed in your tissues and remain for a decade if not decades. I am a senior citizen and I don't have decades left. If others have had this happen to them it would be helpful to hear what they have learned and what they are doing about staying well. My sight has been impaired significantly and I now face the prospect of going blind. Any information would be helpful.



"Healing Through Unity" is published for the purpose of sharing thoughts, comments and experiences on how the teachings of the Baha'i Faith are being applied to physical and spiritual health. Other than the quoted Holy Writings, the material in this newsletter represents the thoughts and opinions of the writers and has no authority. None of the material published in this newsletter is intended to be a substitute for the advice of a physician.

You are free to copy articles, provided you indicate the source of the article. There are 10 issues per year; it is not published during July and August. The newsletter is produced in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


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All of us have had healing experiences, as well as climbed out of low points along life's way - physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. Please share your stories, tips, useful links, and quotes from the Baha'i Writings about staying healthy in a stressful world. Your articles do not have to be long - even a few paragraphs in length is fine. Baha'u'llah gave us each other as a big part of a healthy lifestyle, and sharing stories and ideas that work for you brings encouragement to others. Asking for information and support from others can bring encouragement to you!


Many thanks to all of you who share helpful ideas for the Healing Through Unity Newsletter. The decision to select and edit material submitted for publication is determined by the editor. We welcome submissions from everyone.

Please e-mail your stories, comments, suggestions or "Question for the Month" ideas to the newsletter editor, Cheryll Schuette, at:


Editor - Cheryll Schuette
Contributing Editor - Lynn Ascrizzi
Founding Editor - Frances Mezei
Medical Reviewer - Dr. Diane Kent
Circulation Assistant - Kathy Yonash
Web Master - Russ Novak

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