We all know pets improve the lives and health of their owners. Recent studies have shown the positive affect that pets have on decreasing their owner’s blood pressure, reducing their stress hormones and increasing blood levels of oxytocin, the love hormone. But owning a pet also helps people build stronger relationships among themselves.
Recent research from Australia shows that pets act as a “social lubricant” to help knit communities together.
Professor Lisa Woods and her colleagues from the University of Western Australia’s School of Population Health conducted a telephone survey of 2,500 people in four cities in the U.S. and Australia. The U.S. cities included San Diego, Portland, and Nashville, while the sole Australian city was Perth.
Here is a list of their major findings:
- Second to proximity (being neighbors, children’s school, local streets and parks), people met a person from their neighborhood they previously didn’t know through their pets. The majority of the new relationships were a result of walking a dog, with Perth leading the pack by this method.
- More than 50% of those living in San Diego, Nashville, and Perth, and about 48% of those living in Portland reported that they got to know people in their neighborhood as a direct result of their pets.
Again walking a dog generated the majority of these new relationships.
Here are some comments of those who met people through their pets:
“People always stop, complete strangers will stop, and talk to you about your dog and ask you about it. It's funny that it seems to be an ice-breaker, or maybe people with dogs are that particular way” (male, Perth).
“I tend to talk to people who I wouldn't normally talk to. Without the dog, I wouldn't speak to them” (male, Portland).
- About 25% of pet owners who got to know people in the neighborhood through their pets considered one or more of the people as friends and not just acquaintances.
Here are comments about those friendships:
“It's made me think that we have a great deal in common. We found that we are like minded about some other things. Having our cats as a point in common has made it easier for us to become friends” (female, Nashville).
“I've meet 3 neighbors while we were walking our dogs at the nearby park. Through the dogs we have met some good people, new friends” (male, Portland).
“I was just visiting with one of them and we mentioned that we had a rabbit and they had a rabbit too. They became more than just acquaintances” (female, Portland).
- 42.3% of pet owners received one or more types of social support from someone they met through their pet. In the U.S. 33% (30% in Australia) of those surveyed felt they could ask their new friends for instrumental support (borrowing something, practical help, feeding a pet, or collecting mail while away). 25% of those in all cities felt that they could ask their new friends for appraisal support (advice). And 14-20% (depending on the city) felt they could confide in their new friends about something that was bothering them.
- Compared to non-pet owners, pet owners are more likely to meet other people in a neighborhood that they previously did not know.
Although dog ownership was the greatest facilitator of new human relationships, the authors point out that any pet can be a catalyst for social interaction:
“Pet owners (regardless of the type of pet) seem to find an affinity with other pet owners; they connected through a shared love of animals, with the exchange of pet anecdotes a common ‘ice-breaker.’”
Dr. Ken Tudor
Image: Ksenia Raykova / Shutterstock
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