February is American Heart Month

February is American heart month!! Who has a heart? I have a heart! You have a heart!! Let’s have a heart to heart talk about how animals help keep our hearts healthy!

Roxie Ann Houston is the name of the dog sitting by herself on the first page of this website. Roxie was the assistance animal to my father Cecil Houston. Roxie retired as an assistance animal after my father passed away in July of 2017. Roxie was prescribed for my father by his cardiologist, Dr. Andrew L. Smith, the Clinical Chief of Cardiology at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

I hear it coming…”how did that little dog help with your dad’s heart condition?” Well, let me start by giving you the definition of an assistance animal as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. An assistance animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.

I am not a human cardiologist. I cannot give you the reason Dr. Smith thought my dad could benefit from an assistance animal. I can however share some findings from the American Heart Association (AHA). AHA cites a number of studies that found pet ownership might help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some data even indicates that pets help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and that owners with heart issues are more likely to survive heart attacks. AHA indicates that dog owners are more likely to exercise, have lower blood pressure, and be less vulnerable to the physical effects of stress.

With this information being shared by AHA, I feel fairly confident in saying Dr. Smith felt my father’s heart could benefit from having Roxie around. The only issue I had with this…I lost my dog and companion. However, my father gained an assistance animal and the potential for improved heart health and I was ok with that sacrifice!!

Roxie was the initiator for my dad to get out of the bed to perform his minimum exercise. He would walk to the front door in his tighty whities, undershirt and house shoes to let Roxie out to do her morning business. I want to take this opportunity to apologize to any neighbors who had the pleasure to witness my dad in his tighty whities and undershirt doing his morning routine with Roxie. I hope that image did not cause too much stress and anxiety… My dad’s favorite quote, “I lost all my modesty after being in the hospital.” Dad we noticed, and so did the neighbors!

To all physicians out there, Dr. Smith helped my father’s heart health by prescribing him an assistance animal. My family and I will be forever grateful to Dr. Smith because we know the positive impact Roxie had, not only on his heart health, but his general health and well-being. As a veterinarian that understands an assistance animal's needs, I am in a position to collaborate with other medical professionals to properly prescribe an assistance animal.

As medical professionals, it is our collective responsibility to support patients being prescribed alternative therapies using human animal interactions, maintain the health and safety of the public at large, and to set everyone up for success.   Assistance Animals Consulting is an organization of veterinarians that will collaborate with you to maximize the health benefits of a working animal. Our primary purpose is to assist you as you are prescribing animals to improve your patient’s health and wellness. Contact us today to find out how we can collaborate together to help create successful human animal partnerships, keeping the public safe with any type of prescribed working animal.

Happy healthy heart month!!

Rhesa Houston, DVM

Founder, Assistance Animals Consulting


(205) 277-0277


Owning a Pet May Protect You from Heart Disease [Web log post]. (2 May, 2017).

1 Feb, 2018. from http://heart.org. Link

"Healthy Aging - Cardiovascular Health." Human Animal Bond Research Institute. HABRI | Healthy Aging.

1 Feb, 2018. http://habri.org. Link

Caswell, Jon. Is Owning a Pet Good for You? [Web log post]. Fall 2017, Heart Insight Magazine.

1 Feb, 2018. From http://heartinsight.heart.org. Link

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