Pet's love and affection promotes health and healing

Written by  Brooke Carbo

John Bassler 250John Bassler and SpartoJohn Bassler, a statistician in the School of Public Health’s biostatistics department, understands the positive benefits a pet can bring to the humans in its life.

“I grew up with animals and always had an appreciation for the bond between animals and people,” he said.

Since 2018, Bassler and his “best friend,” a German shepherd named Sparto, have been sharing the benefits with people in need of a little positivity as a volunteer handler-animal therapy team for Hand in Paw.

The Birmingham-based nonprofit provides animal-assisted therapy services to medical centers, schools and service organizations throughout north central Alabama. Bassler and Sparto particularly enjoy working with children, paying regular visits to the young patients at Children’s of Alabama and participating in Hand in Paw’s education programs, No More Bullies and Sit, Stay, Read.

The kids are immediately drawn to Sparto — “like a teddy bear come to life,” Bassler said. “When you’re sitting with a child who has cancer and who’s going through something you can’t understand, sharing a moment with Sparto lets them step outside whatever battle they’re fighting.”

According to Hand in Paw, spending time with therapy dogs like Sparto can increase the body’s level of oxytocin and serotonin, which boosts happiness and wellbeing, and help lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. Dog owners are also shown to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, have a reduced risk of asthma and are more likely to survive a heart attack than non-pet owners.

More than 700 photos were submitted to the UAB Employee Wellness Cutest Pet photo contest for employees — and the votes are in.

This past month, UAB Employee Wellness spotlighted the special bond between humans and their pets with a pet photo contest for UAB employees. More than 700 photos were submitted and throughout the month of July, the UAB community voted for UAB’s Cutest Pet. 

When all the votes were tallied, the winner was 6-month-old golden doodle Harley Davy Doodle. Donna Dixon, program director in the Department of Neurosurgery and Harley’s owner, knows firsthand how powerful the relationship with a pet can be.

After losing a beloved dog last year, Dixon said her family needed some time before they were ready to open their hearts to another puppy — “but when we met Harley, we knew she would help continue our healing with her love and affection,” Dixon said. “Harley has brought the joy and love of a dog back to our family.”


And the finalists in the Cutest Pets contest are —

  • Oliver Bean, a 9-month-old golden doodle and weekly winner is companion to Danielle Ivey in Annual Giving. “Oliver is a goofy sweetheart with lots of love to give,” Ivey said. “He's always up for some cuddle time or play time, and loves his humans more than anything.”

    See all the finalists plus a Who's Who of UAB's Cutest Pets, most adventurous, best buddies, best smile and most UAB spirit and those voted Most likely to… at uab.edu/petpics.
  • This weekly winner, a 4-year-old Japanese snow macaque monkey named Yukimi, keeps things intersting for Billy Connelley in TKC Administration. “(Yukimi is) constantly into mischief and a source of entertainment and laughter to anyone who visits the farm,” Connelley said. “He loves to swim and play in water, climb, and even go dog-back riding on the Labrador retriever.”

    See all the finalists plus a Who's Who of UAB's Cutest Pets, most adventurous, best buddies, best smile and most UAB spirit and those voted Most likely to… at uab.edu/petpics.
  • Bocephus, a 2-year-old English bulldog, is a source of happiness for Pharmacy's Christina Rachael Blalock. “From the moment he came down the aisle to fulfill his ring bearer duties at our wedding, Bo has brought so much joy into our lives and put smiles on our faces every day,” Blalock said.

    See all the finalists plus a Who's Who of UAB's Cutest Pets, most adventurous, best buddies, best smile and most UAB spirit and those voted Most likely to… at uab.edu/petpics.
  • AND THE WINNER IS Harley Davy Doodle, a 6-month-old golden doodle who loves paparazzi and Neurosurgery's Donna Dixon. “Harley is an extremely smart puppy and learns tricks quickly,” said Dixon. “She adores people and playing with other dogs … and she enjoys posing for the camera so much we opened her own Instagram page.”

    See all the finalists plus a Who's Who of UAB's Cutest Pets, most adventurous, best buddies, best smile and most UAB spirit and those voted Most likely to… at uab.edu/petpics.