High school students are often portrayed as moody and hard-to-read. Even so, animals often seem to occupy a soft spot in their hearts. Many students at Mishawaka High School own pets, especially cats and dogs. It is not uncommon to see students posting pictures of their pets on social media or to hear students talk about their pets at school. The important role pets play in the lives of students inspires further investigation into the reasons for the connection between students and their fuzzy friends.
Ms. Lori Kitkowski, a psychology and sociology teacher at MHS, explained some of the biological reasons for how people connect with their pets. “[Pet ownership] does help to release a lot of neurotransmitters: you get dopamine, you get serotonin. When those two are released, then, it helps to regulate melatonin as well, which allows you to sleep. It does have calming aspects…Your blood pressure goes down, your heart rate goes down, your breathing, even your brain waves slow, just by the act of petting and relaxing with an animal.”
Sophie Waldron, an MHS senior and chocolate lab owner, shared her own experiences with her dog. “She kind of just knows when I’m sad–she’ll come over to me and just comfort me, so it definitely made me less anxious. She kind of just de-stresses me. She’s my little personal destresser.” Kitkowski, who owns two dogs, one cat, and three rats, also shared her personal experience with her pets’ effects on her life on a daily basis. “It just depends on the day, but most of the time, I feel really happy, feel really calm, relaxed.”
Kitkowski did, however, acknowledge that there can be stressful aspects of owning pets. “[Pet ownership] does actually add a little bit more stress, though…I have to make sure that they’re taken care of through[out] the day.” She added, “When something happens to them, it’s like one of your kids, and you wanna make sure that they’re taken care of, and so that is stressful. And, sometimes taking care of your animals healthwise is expensive.”
Despite the possible downsides of pet ownership, it seems that many people are willing to overlook any difficulties because the good moments outweigh the bad. Kitkowski suggested that her pets help her to maintain structure in her life. “I have to stay more on a schedule and get, you know, up at a certain time in order to take them out.” Waldron echoed this notion. She said, “I come home from school, I get to see her every day, it makes me happy. I come home from work, get to see her.”
Both sources agreed that their lives would be incomplete without their pets. “I think there’d be, like, a little void. I think that there will never be a time in my life where I don’t have a pet. I’ve grown up having cats and dogs my whole life and I don’t think there’ll ever be a time because of that,” shared Kitkowski. Waldron reflected that her life would likely “be very quiet. Very, very quiet, not as happy…she kind of just fulfills my life.”