A Wall Street Journal story today by Dr. John Bradshaw took a closer look at the real benefits of owning a pet.
Some researchers have proposed that having a pet bestows a dazzling array of health benefits: lower cholesterol, reduced blood pressure, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, combatting stress, relieving depression, enhancing self-esteem, and making children more empathetic.
However, most of these healthy benefits can be attributed to other characteristics of the pet owners, such as being white, married, and a homeowner.
Other benefits, such as improved mood and a calming effect, may be real, but are only temporary.
And even if some of the benefits above were real, there is the stress associated with owning a pet, which could negate some of the aforementioned benefits.
Despite these explanations, there are still benefits to owning a pet.
The pet effect may be a social one:
- Research has confirmed that this is a real effect, applying to men and women alike. In a 2015 study published in the journal Anthrozoös, a young man walking around a shopping precinct with a friendly Labrador retriever by his side was able to persuade one woman in three to part with their phone numbers, compared with less than one in 10 when he was on his own. (My college roommate and I had a dog for a short time while in college, and this seemed to work quite well for him. When I walked the dog, he’s all that the girls noticed…)
- A 2015 study found that pet owners were more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than those without pets.
Bradshaw concludes, “Pets make people happy, and bring people together. Does it really matter if they don’t have the power to prolong our lifespans?”
I can certainly attest to the social benefit of having a dog (well at least my wife can):
- First, most dogs force you to get out of the house every day; you’ll never meet your neighbors if you sit inside all day.
- Second, dogs provide a reason to stop and say hello to your neighbors. The neighbor may want to pet the dog, or they may have a dog themselves that wants to befriend your dog. In other words, dogs are nice icebreakers.
- Third, along the lines of the previous benefit, dogs give you something to talk about when you see a neighbor, with opening lines such as, “What kind of dog is that?”, or “Is your dog friendly?”, or “How old is your dog?”
- Finally, the occasional stray dog gives the neighbors something to rally behind, to unite in a common endeavor.
So I guess in the grand scheme of things, I’m glad that we have a dog, despite her attraction to pink, and a desire to go outside every five minutes.