Can’t Resist the Cuddles

Do you ever wonder why most people go gaga over babies—human and otherwise?

When I was studying physical anthropology at the University of Texas, one of my professors caught slack after he said that baby animals were cute so that their mothers would take care of them. Anthropomorphism in the world of science was a big no-no back then, and still is in certain academic situations. However, recent brain research seems to support my professor’s claim.

There is a recent article in The Telegraph by Sophie Jamieson about an Oxford University study concluding babies and puppies have evolved cute characteristics as a way to survive. It goes beyond visual attributes like big eyes, chubby cheeks, and infantile giggles. Sounds and smells also stimulate the nervous system to give care to the cute. Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry Professor Morten Kringelbach led the research and said, “Infants attract us through all our senses, which helps make cuteness one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour.” That also might be why we more often choose young animals for pets rather than older ones.

Beyond stimulating our need to nurture, owning a pet, regardless of the animal’s age, can make us healthier. It’s no secret that pets relax us when we’re stressed, but did you know there’s a scientific reason for that? Cuddling a pet releases the chemical oxytocin sometimes called “the cuddle chemical.” Oxytocin calms and soothes both the owner and the pet, which leads to a strong bond between both. That bond between dog and human is the strongest. Dogs are the only animal that consistently run to meet their owner when frightened or happy to see them. They are the only ones to make eye contact with people when they need attention, food, or protection.

Other studies show that owning a pet improves our cardio-vascular system, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces the risk of asthma. Cuddling or petting a pet reduces the stress hormone cortisol in those who suffer from clinical depression. Dogs are also being trained to detect, usually by smell, certain diseases or malfunctions of the human body. For example, trained dogs can detect minute changes in the function of the adrenal glands of people suffering from Addison’s disease. Some can use their sense of smell to detect the development of cancer or diabetes, and others learn to detect early signs of epileptic seizures and to warn their owner.

I used to teach middle-school science before I retired. Although I loved my job, I usually left the classroom stressed. A half-hour commute home through heavy traffic added a tight knot between my shoulders. Only when I turned down my street did I begin to relax. When I looked at my front window and saw my little brown, mixed-breed hound Jenny watching for me, the tension washed away completely.

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Meet Jennifer Leeper

Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Jennifer Leeper to the blog!

Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.

I started writing fiction in high school and it was bad – very bad. I published a lot in my 20s and early 30s, but not fiction. As a Journalism graduate, I got used to seeing my byline above newspaper stories and even in some local magazines, but accomplishment in fiction writing was really where my aspirations reached, and it wasn’t until my mid-30s that I published my first fiction work, a short story called Murder Brokers, in an anthology put out by Hen House Press.

Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?

I’ve had several amazing pets over the years. At one time, we had two dogs and two cats, but sadly, we’re down to one cat named Karina. She’s a short-haired, gray girl who loves lap naps and is just the right balance of dependent/independent. I don’t model my writing on my pets, however, I find they are a great comfort to me while I’m writing.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey. I rarely read nonfiction, but I couldn’t resist this read because it spotlights one of my favorite, natural spots on the planet.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a crime/mystery/thriller set outside Vegas, with a female and a male protagonist, working together to solve a crime.

Who is your favorite author and why?

If you had asked me this question a few years back, I would have said Jack London or several years before that, Sinclair Lewis, but these days, it’s Tony Hillerman. I love how he elevates the regional and cultural settings of his books to main character status in his stories. His description of the southwestern U.S., particularly parts of New Mexico and more specifically, Navajo reservation culture, engages as much as Hillerman’s adept and authentic portrayal of crime-solving.

How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?

I tend to mention animals in passing, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t influential in the context of my storylines, and the animals I mention tend to be wild, not domesticated species. For example, I lean toward writing about desert locales, so lizards, wolves, rabbits, and coyotes tend to catch my fancy in my fiction, more so than cats and dogs.

What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?

That’s easy for me. Any of Jack London’s books where a dog is a central character is my favorite because he instilled humanity in these animals and that’s no so far-fetched to me.

When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?

I knew I was a writer when I was around 12 years old and my English teacher selected my poem to submit for display at the state capitol with other pieces of writing from youth statewide.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?

At the top of my bucket list is finishing and publishing a novel of 50,000+ words. Thus far, I’ve published many short stories, a novella, collection of stories, and a novel of around 40,000 words, but I really want to publish a longer work. A close tie is summiting a 14-er. A 14-er is a 14,000-feet mountain peak.

What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?

In my reading slush pile are the following: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

About Jennifer:

Ms. Leeper is an award-winning fiction author who’s publications credits include Independent Ink Magazine, Notes Magazine, The Stone Hobo, Poiesis, Every Day Fiction, Aphelion Webzine, Heater magazine, Cowboy Jamboree, The New Engagement, Alaska Quarterly Review and The Liguorian. She has had works published by J. Burrage Publications, Hen House Press, Inwood Indiana Press, Alternating Current Press, Barking Rain Press, Whispering Prairie Press, and Spider Road Press. In 2012, Ms. Leeper was awarded the Catoctin Mountain Artist-in-Residency, and in 2013, Ms. Leeper was a Tuscany Prize Novella Award finalist through Tuscany Press for her short novel, Tribe. Ms. Leeper’s short story Tatau was published in the journal, Poiesis, and was short listed as a finalist for the Luminaire Award in 2015, and nominated by Alternating Current for Queen’s Ferry Press’ Best of Small Fictions of 2016 Prize. In 2016, The Saturday Evening Post honored Ms. Leeper’s short story Book of the Dead with an honorable mention in its Great American Fiction Contest. Ms. Leeper’s short story The Bottle won second place in the Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Prize through Spider Road Press.

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Annnnnnticipation…..

First, let me wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Pens, Paws and Claws!

I hope you all had a wonderful turkey day.  Like many of you, I traveled for my feast.  My family gathers at my sister’s house for the big meal and then we watch football and, on Friday, go shopping and then bowling.  I cooked this year, and thankfully it turned out well.  It’s fun, it’s tradition, and we look forward to it every year.  That’s the first of two turkeys I cooked, and the sweet potato casserole waiting to go in!

The only thing we don’t look forward to is leaving our dogs at home.  My sister is allergic, so the dogs stay home with the dog sitter and we have to go four days without our dog fix.  When you live with pets, no matter how many or what kind, when you have to be without them, its just…odd.  No one to bump your elbow and ask for pets, no one to clean the floor if you drop something, no one to warm your lap when you sit down or lie across your computer and interfere with your work.

Seriously, how is even possible to live without pets?

So, as much as I love being with my family, I am looking forward to getting home to my dogs.  We also have another fun thing to anticipate on the way home.  We’re stopping by to see more family on our way home and they have….wait for it….a new puppy!

WOOT!  We’ll get a puppy fix before we get home, then, we’ll get home to slurpy kisses from our own beloved pets.

Ahhhhh.  After nine hours driving it will be: Home, sweet pet-filled home.

The only good news about 9 hours of driving is that I can write for most of that.  I’ve got a holiday novella to finish (another mystery-in-space with my co-conspiriitor, Nancy Northcott.) I’m going to finish and publish another paranormal romantic suspense as well, before the end of December.  That one, A Spirited Life, is in final edits, so I may be doing that during the drive!

So, then we’ll be on to the winter holidays!  Hannukah, Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Years.  I’ll start decorating the house next week.

What about you?  

Do you take your pets with you for the holidays, or  do you host and let your family bring their pets to your house?

Did you have a great Thanksgiving?  Did you have pumpkin pie or pecan?

What’s your December Holiday?  Are you ready to decorate the day after Thanksgiving, or do you wait till December 1?

What day do you put up your tree?  Is it up? If so, post a picture!

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