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Study finds pets help connect people to their neighbors

As if we needed any further proof that pets are good for us… A recent study – based in part on surveys of Portland residents – reveals that owning pets can help connect us with other humans. While owners are well aware of the companionship and unconditional love pets provide them at home, animals’ roles as catalysts for human connection has received scant scientific attention.

Researchers at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition (a subsidiary of Mars Petcare) and the University of Western Australia set out to change that with their study examining the impact pets have on relationships with neighbors. 

The scientists examined the indirect role pets play in facilitating three different areas of social relatedness: getting to know people; forming friendships; and developing social support networks. To conduct the survey, they called more than 600 randomly selected residents in each of three U.S. cities, including Portland, San Diego and Nashville; as well as Perth, Australia.

Researchers questioned each participant about the process of getting to know people in their neighborhood. They asked pet owners about the type of pets owned and if their pet had played a role in developing friendships. Researchers also wanted to know about the specific type of social support received from the person they met through their pet.

“People always stopcomplete strangers will stopand talk to you about your dog and ask you about itIt’s funny that it seems to be an ice-breakeror maybe people with dogs are that particular way” (malePerth).

“I tend to talk to people who I wouldn’t normally talk toWithout the dogI wouldn’t speak to them” (malePortland).
The study’s findings, published in the journal PLOS One, reveal that:
  • Pet owners are significantly more inclined to get to know people in their neighborhood than people with no furry or feathered companions. 
  • The type of relationship they may develop ranges from a brief social interaction to the development of new friendships.
  • Interestingly, the U.S. dog owners were much more likely than owners of other species to consider people they met through their dog as a friend.
  • People were even more likely to meet each other through pets than via their children’s school, according to the research results, and walking your dog is among the top five best ways to meet new people.
  • Many of the pet owners also said their pets helped them establish relationships that led to tangible forms of social support in both practical and emotionally supportive ways.
  • As more evidence points to social isolation as a risk factor for mental health issues – while, conversely, social support networks and friendships help improve individual and community well-being – this is significant.

Bottom line: if you want a healthier neighborhood, get a pet. Keep walking that dog every day, and you and Fido will be healthier too.

Source: Monique Balas: