They bring us comfort. They make us laugh. Their companionship can feel as close as any human loved one. For so many of us, pets simply make life better.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 68% of households have pets (as of 2018). In a partnership with the Mars Corporation, the NIH has been studying the effects of pet ownership. Several studies have shown that interacting with animals lowers blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol, which is one reason PLNU often brings gentle dogs to campus around finals week.

Additional studies have shown that pets can positively affect people’s mental health, decreasing feelings of loneliness and improving mood. Pets often sense when people are in distress. It’s one reason therapy animals can make a difference for people who are sick or suffering.

Kenai & Koda

Bernese mountain dogs Kenai and Koda make life more fun — and active — for Kim Hogelucht, Ph.D., professor of business. Kenai, age two, and Koda, age four, are named after the characters in Disney’s Brother Bear.

Hogelucht and her Bernese mountain dogs, Kenai and Koda

“They are very much a part of our family,” Hogelucht said. “They follow me around the house in the morning just waiting to go on a drive with me. They know if I dress more formally and grab my briefcase that it is a work day, so they stop following me around!”

Kenai and Koda are known for their funny and charming antics. For example, Koda grabs a pillow when anyone enters the house, and Kenai sits on his hind legs to beg.

“Pretty funny to see such a large dog do that!” Hogelucht said.

Whether they are lounging on the backyard furniture (including on the table for Koda!) or adventuring with their humans, Kenai and Koda have done more than provide companionship. They’ve also offered consolation during difficult times.

“My husband passed away last September, and I don’t know what we would have done without these two furry blessings,” Hogelucht said. “They have been a great comfort to our family and something to look forward to coming home to especially this last year.”

Mr. P

Alvarez and her dachshund, Mr. P

Pets offer companionship and fun as well as a sense of purpose. Whether it’s knowing someone will be waiting at the door with unconditional love, having an adventure buddy always at the ready, or feeling the fulfillment that comes with providing care for another, pets often make our lives richer and happier. They offer us devotion, and we nurture and care for them. It’s a relationship both simple and profound.

Evi Alvarez, career advisor, refers to her 14-year-old dachshund Peanut (aka Mr. P, Weenie, Peewee, Pinkipie) as her best friend. Alvarez and Peanut met when she was 17 and he was around four or five. Peanut was Evi’s brother’s dog at the time. Evi entered the family as a foster child, and after her brother went away for school, she and Peanut became closely bonded. At the time, Alvarez was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Peanut became her registered emotional support animal (ESA). It was often difficult for Alvarez to communicate with people when she was having a hard day.

“With Peanut, I didn’t have to communicate,” she said. “He became my rock when I was in a lot of transitional phases and figuring out where I fit in. Peanut gave me a clear example of unconditional love, and then I got to see that in a family as well.”

Peanut was with Alvarez throughout her time as a foster daughter and when she was adopted. He lived with her parents while she was in college and has lived with her full time since she graduated from PLNU in 2021.

“He’s so in tune with what I need,” Alvarez said. “If I want to hike or go to the beach and go swimming, he will 100% go with me. If I’m energetic, he will match that. If I need to be quiet and practice mindfulness, he will not get up.”

Fantaroni and her Nigerian dwarf goats, Lisa Marie Sage & Elvis Snuggles

Lisa Marie Sage & Elvis Snuggles

Nigerian dwarf goats aren’t the only pets special education professor Grace Fantaroni, Ed.D., owns, but they are probably her most unusual. (She also has two dogs, a cat, and five fish.) Elvis Snuggles and Lisa Marie Sage have been with her family since they were just six weeks old.

“They are always up to something!” Fantaroni shared. “Goats are hilarious pets! I even started an Instagram documenting their shenanigans (gracielandgoats). I grew up around farms outside of Philadelphia, and I guess I tried to bring a little of that to my own children and their friends. We’ve brought them to a few school and charity events, and it’s amazing that many kids (and adults) have not met or pet a goat before. All animals are so special and this is just one way we teach and share with the community how diverse and amazing all God’s creatures are.”

Peanut

Sachi Stearns, design manager in PLNU’s marketing office, calls her desert tortoise, Peanut, her “baby dinosaur.” Stearns and her husband have other pets as well, but one thing they appreciate about Peanut is the longevity of her species. Peanut is a sulcata tortoise, also known as an African spurred tortoise. Her species has an average life span of 70 years, which means she can be with their family for the long run.

Peanut has some weakness in her back legs, but that doesn’t stop her from exploring and moving quickly when she has proper motivation – like the prospect of a delicious hibiscus flower, her favorite treat.

Stearns and her desert tortoise, Peanut

Ziggy

Graduate and Professional Studies enrollment counselor Leyla Afkhami enjoys spending time with her dog, Ziggy. She shared: “No matter where we go, whether it’s to the beach or the local farmer’s market, people always stop us to ask whether he is a miniature husky or a husky/corgi mix! He absolutely looks like a miniature Husky (and has the energy of one) but is some sort of terrier mix, which makes him so small. He is about 25 pounds and just turned one this March!”

Berry

Animal domestication likely began thousands of years ago. Sheep, cows, horses, and llamas were domesticated in order to help people with labor. Dogs and cats were also probably first domesticated because of the skills they could offer in jobs like herding flocks or catching pests. Researchers aren’t sure when animals began to be kept as pets for companionship in addition to or instead of as workers. According
to some estimates, dogs may have originally been kept as pets around 15,000 years ago and cats around 9,000 years ago. According to a PBS report, pet sales were documented by the 1840s with the first commercial dog food sold in the 1860s.

Today, pet owners still sometimes employ their pets’ skills for work as well as fun. Dogs, for example, have jobs in law enforcement, therapy, and in assisting people with disabilities.

Mike Mooring, Ph.D., professor of biology, adopted his miniature Australian Shepherd, Berry, for more than just companionship. Berry was trained to be a scent detection dog to assist with Mooring’s large animal research in Costa Rica.

“Dogs have about a million times stronger scent than humans,” Mooring said.

Berry fulfilled that role twice – once as a puppy and once as a one-year-old. However, the travel proved to be too impractical for her to continue that work. Instead, the now 9-year-old has become the inspiration for a children’s book Mooring’s wife, Emma, is writing. Berry still loves to find things by scent and demonstrates her high intelligence by retrieving specific toys by their names.

“You can say, ‘Get deer’ or ‘Get Woodstock,’ and she knows which one,” Mooring said.

She also enjoys hide-andseek or seek-and-find, and she has lots of friends in her neighborhood.

“Sometimes Berry comes to campus and students really love her,” Mooring said. “She’s kind of an unofficial emotional support dog.”

Ursula

Lescart and two of the Birman kittens he is caring for

Alain Lescart, Ph.D., not only teaches French and literature at PLNU but also writes and publishes books and articles in both French and English. One of his books was inspired by his cats. The Extraordinary Adventure of the Sacred Cat of Burmah has been published in both languages. It is about the legend and history of the Birman cat breed in France and was one of his sabbatical writing projects. Alain is the only breeder of Birman cats in San Diego, something he has done since 1986. He currently has two adult female Birman cats of his own as well as one male.

This fall, he is also caring for nine kittens born from the two mothers. Though the kittens keep him busy, it’s work he loves. That’s why he’s planning to keep one of the babies, Ursula, while the others will go to new homes when they are old enough.

Christine is the editor of the Viewpoint magazine at PLNU.