The health benefits for individuals who own pets have been well documented:
- Petting an animal reduces a person’s blood pressure.
- Dog owners get more exercise than non-dog owners.
- After heart attack, death rates are lower in pet owning versus non-pet owning patients.
- People with high blood pressure who adopt pets seem to handle stress better than people who don’t.
- Infants who are exposed to animals have a lower risk of allergies, asthma, and eczema.
- Alzheimer patients have fewer agitated outbursts and better maintain their weight when exposed to animals.
- For people without good social support structures, having a pet decreases loneliness and depression.
Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist with the Mayo Clinic, has gone so far as to say “I consider getting a pet to be one of the easiest and most rewarding ways of living a longer, healthier life.”
But a new study has added another dimension to this research by showing that pet ownership “may be an important factor in developing healthy neighborhoods.” Scientists conducted a telephone survey of 2692 randomly selected residents of Perth, Australia; San Diego, CA; Nashville, TN; and Portland, OR. They asked the following questions:
“Have you got [sic] to know people in this neighborhood that you didn’t know before you lived here?”
“Do you own a pet?” followed by, “How many, if any, of the following pets do you have? (dog, cat, bird, fish and other)”
“Have you got [sic] to know people in your neighborhood as a result of your pet? (for example, through walking your pet or talking to your neighbors about your pet)”
“Do you regard any of the people you have met through your pet as a friend (more than just an acquaintance)?”
“Have you met anyone through your pet who you could:
- talk with about something that was worrying you, such as a work or family issue?
- ask for information, such as if they could recommend a tradesperson or restaurant?
- ask for advice?
- ask to borrow something (such as a book or tool), or ask a favor (such as collect mail), or ask for practical help such as getting a ride?”
Analysis of the responses found that “pet owners were significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than non-pet owners,” and “dog owners in the three U.S. cities were significantly more likely than owners of other types of pets to regard people whom they met through their pet as a friend. Around 40% of pet owners reported receiving… social support via people they met through their pet.”
Check out what some of the survey respondents said:
“I tend to talk to people who I wouldn't normally talk to. Without the dog, I wouldn't speak to them” (male, Portland).
“The cat steals people’s socks from their houses, and then I return them. It's a good way to get to know people. They all think it is hilarious” (female, Perth).
Seems to me like strong evidence that pets are not only good for individuals but also for the communities they live in.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
The pet factor - companion animals as a conduit for getting to know people, friendship formation and social support. Wood L, Martin K, Christian H, Nathan A, Lauritsen C, Houghton S, Kawachi I, McCune S. PLoS One. 2015 Apr 29;10(4):e0122085.
Image: Kichigin / Shutterstock
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