Research has established that pets are able to create a connection with people. In a now famous case from the 1960s, American psychiatrist Boris Levinson established a connection with a particularly withdrawn boy by bringing his dog to the sessions. So successful was this approach, that this form of Animal Assisted Therapy was subsequently used by Levinson to establish a “bridging” relationship with most of his young patients. Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) are now used in a wide range of therapeutic and institutional settings.
- A three part study of the wellbeing pets provide in everyday life found that pet owners had greater self esteem, undertook more exercise, fared better on measures of wellbeing and were better able to cope with social rejection than non-pet owners. The US study also found that the support that pets provide complemented, rather than competed with, human sources of support; meaning that pets may support wellbeing in an everyday environment as well as helping individuals facing significant life stressors.1
- An Australian study of the impact of cat ownership on mental health by Cheryl Straede and Richard Gates found that “cat owners had significantly (better) scores for psychological health, indicating a lower level of psychiatric disturbance, and could be considered to have better psychological health than the non-pet subjects.”2
- Psychiatrist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, Aaron Katcher, has pointed to the importance of touch in people’s lives and the scarcity, other than with pets, of socially accepted situations in which we may touch others.3
- In one American study of elderly persons who had recently lost a spouse, pet ownership and strong attachment to pets were associated with significantly less depression.4 Pets appear to provide a powerful buffering effect against grief and stress.
- Another US study of widows found non-pet owners reported a deterioration in health after death of a spouse, whereas pet owners did not.5
- McConnell, AR, Brown, CM, Shoda, TM, Stayton, LE, Martin, CE, 2011, ‘Friends with benefi ts: on the positive consequences of pet ownership’, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, vol.101, no.6, pp.1239-1252.
- Straede, CM, & Gates, GR, 1993, ‘Psychological Health in a Population of Australian Cat Owners’, Anthrozoos, vol. VI, no. 1, pp. 30-42.
- Katcher, AH, Beck, AM, 1988, ‘Health and Caring for Living Things’, in Andrew Rowan (ed), Animals and People Sharing the World, Tufts University, University Press of New England.
- Garrity, TF, Stallones, L, Marx, MB, & Johnson, TP, 1989, ‘Pet ownership and attachment as supportive factors in the health of the elderly’, Anthrozoos, vol. 3, pp. 35-44.
- Bolin, SE, 1987, ‘The effects of companion animals during conjugal bereavement’, Anthrozoos, vol.1, pp. 26 - 35.