Pets and the Community
Pets may help people to build social bridges in our communities by acting as social lubricants with neighbours or strangers, or even as motivators for walking and use of parks. This in turn facilitates exchanges of greetings and other interactions between people who may not otherwise interact with each other. These social bridges can be collectively thought of as the ‘glue that holds society together’, also known as social capital. This area of social research is only beginning to be uncovered and promises to yield some fascinating findings on the role of pets in people’s lives and their community.
- Health researchers in Western Australia have investigated the positive role that pets play in our local communities. Through a random telephone survey of 339 Perth residents, they found that pet ownership was positively associated with social contact and interaction, and with perceptions of neighbourhood friendliness.1 This building of social capital through greater interaction between members of the community is known to have positive effects on the health and economic viability of a society.
- Peter Messent, in his study of people walking with and without a dog in an urban park, has shown that the presence of a dog dramatically increases the number and length of conversations with other people.2 Other research shows pets provide a focus for conversation and a means of ‘breaking the ice’, especially important for some elderly people, or for those with disabilities such as people in wheelchairs.3 This effect is often referred to in the literature as ‘social facilitation’.
- Wood, L, Giles-Corti, B, & Bulsara, M, 2005, ‘The Pet Connection: pets as a conduit for social capital?’, Social Science & Medicine, vol. 61, no. 6, pp. 1159-1173.
- Messent, PR, 1983, Social Facilitation of contact with other people by pet dogs, in Katcher AH & Beck AM (eds), New Perspectives on Our Lives with Companion Animals, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Hart, LA, Hart, BL & Bergin, B, 1987, ‘Socializing effects of service dogs for people with disabilities’, Anthrozoos, vol. 1, pp. 41 -44.