The benefits of having pets

By Fran Price (Goldfinch)
Provisional Psychologist & Resilience Coach

 

Why is it worth putting up with cat hair on the dining table or dog poo on the pavers out the back?
When the cat whinges to be fed every half an hour and the dog constantly lays sticks at your feet hoping you will throw them.

In our house, there’s a running joke of one of us exclaiming, “Who’d have pets?!” when they disgrace themselves or create extra work. There are many reasons why this has stayed a joke in our house as we love our cat and our dog. There are also many research studies that have focused on the benefits of having pets.  For example McConnell et al. (2011) found that pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners. Here are some of the things the research has highlighted about pet ownership, with some of my own experiences mixed in.

 

Pets calm us down
reef fishThink about sitting and watching a fish tank. There is something soothing about their activities in the tank, the colour and the patterns they make as they move around. You can even get screen savers of fake fish tanks! Watching the natural movement of animals, or their basic behaviours can provide a sense of rhythm and purpose, calming us down. Research has shown that pet owners have lower blood pressure and heart rate while performing stressful tasks and people recovering from a heart attack recover more quickly and survive longer when there is a pet at home (Borchard, 2013).

 

Exercise
Getting out and going for a walk. Pets, especially dogs, can be that bit of motivation needed to get out and do something. A study in the US (Bauman et al., 2008) found that dog owners were more likely to meet the dog exerciserequirements of daily physical activity than non dog owners and there were fewer obese dog owners. As it comes into winter and daylight saving has finished, it takes more motivation to do something active outside work times, dogs can give you that adoring look that makes you get your sneakers and walk out the door.

 

Companionship
Pets give unconditional love and want to be part of whatever is going on. Pets can also act as attachment figures, providing a sense of safe haven and reducing distress (Zilcha-Mano et al., 2012). Their unconditional love can provide affection when we most need it or simply be that smiling face at the end of a long day. It’s easy to see the look of devotion from dogs who want to be wherever you are all the time or the companionship of a warm cat curled up on your lap while you’re sitting on the couch in the evening. People say cats are aloof and they certainly have the potential to be like that, but there are definitely some very affectionate cats. I chose my cat from a litter of kittens at the RSPCA. He was the one climbing to the top of their scratching tower and back down again while playfully swiping at the tails of the othecat clothesr kittens. When I picked him up however, I held him at my chest and he stretched up and touched his nose to mine: A very affectionate trait he still pulls out. Despite the fact that he thinks he deserves the run of the house and has an annoying habit of finding freshly folded clean clothes to sleep on, he clearly enjoys being with us, and comes running when we get home, providing a lovely welcome.

 

Responsibility
Pets make us responsible for caring for something else. This can be great for kids as they grow up, learning what an animal needs and the fact that they are reliant on you providing it for them. Being responsible for a task guinea pigand taking ownership of completing it, gives us a sense of competence, even if it is cleaning the poo out of the guinea pigs’ cage. Pets also give structure to your day and mean you’re responsible to them to plan ahead if you’re going to be away.

 

Connecting with others
Owning a pet can help you connect and be part of the community around you. A study of young people in the US found that those who owned pets were more likely to report contributing to their communities by helping their friends and neighbours (Mueller, 2014). There are also the social benefits of owning a pet that needs to beDog park walked. Dogs in particular, due to their desire for exercise and stimulation, create opportunities for interactions and social contact in the broader community. Getting out and walking down the street with your dog or taking them to a dog park creates opportunities for you to meet and interact with other people in your local area. A study in Perth found that owning a pet was positively associated with social interactions both with other pet owners and the broader local community (Wood et al., 2005).  Pet owners compared to non-pet owners, were also significantly less likely to report finding it hard to get to know people generally.

 

Watching people interact with their pets, you can see such positive connections and it’s lovely to be able to look at some of the research around some of the great things these connections are able to provide.

 

References
Bauman, A., Schroeder, J., Furber, S., &Dobson, A. (2001). The epidemiology of dog walking: An unmet need for human and canine health. Medical Journal of Australia, 175, 632-634.

Borchard, T. (2013). 6 Ways Pets Relieve Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/05/19/6-ways-pets-relieve-depression/

McConnell, A. R., Brown, C. M., Shoda, T. M., Stayton, L. E., & Martin, C. E. (2011). Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 1239-1252.

Mueller, M.K. (2014). Is human-animal interaction (HAI) linked to positive youth development? Initial answers. Applied Developmental Science, 18 (1), 5-16

Wood, L., Giles-Corti, B., & Bulsara, M. (2005). The pet connection: Pets as a conduit for social capital? Social Science & Medicine 61, 1159-1173.

Zilcha-Mano, S., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2012). Pets as safe havens and secure bases: The moderating role of pet attachment orientations. Journal of Research in Personality 46, 571-580.

Beginners guide to Psychology: Reflections of a P plater

Pplate

I’ve always been someone who loves putting the pieces together. Working out the back story: what went on up to this point, what pieces added together to make the whole we have now. Mostly to do with people; relationships, communities and people’s motivations for their actions. I’ve found this to be a lovely blessing and an overthinking curse. I’ve had friends over the years who have really appreciated the new perspectives I’ve been able to open for them and I’ve friends who have had to calm me down when I’ve come up with way too many perspectives for myself.

This year I made the transition from the theoretical world of University into the practical world of Psychology. But as with anything in life, it’s not that clear cut. Psychology is a wonderful combination of theoretical guidance and practical application, meaning we don’t stop asking questions and learning along the way. But do we hope psychologists will have the ultimate answer, that magic wand that will make problems disappear?

I love working with children, watching them grasp the world as they currently understand it and add pieces to their web of knowledge as they go. This year has given me the amazing opportunity of doing school counselling work in a primary school and working at the Resilience Centre in Epping.

In this work it is important to keep in mind a view of the bigger picture. Being able to take steps along the way to make a difference but not seeing any one intervention as the magic bullet that will determine a child’s future. Keeping an eye on where you would hope to guide a child, to a place of confidence, competence, an ability to deal with life’s stressors, and being one piece in the puzzle that will hopefully lead them there.

Life is made up of many different people who will guide us along the way and experiences that will act to shape us. While some experiences are seen as being important steps in this process, for example starting school, we will never know which experiences will have the biggest impact on us. Or which people will play the biggest role.

One of the most rewarding experiences of the work I have been doing this year is watching a child describe their Kindness Project as part of the Connect-3 program. Seeing how excited they are about what they did and hearing about all the different people that were involved in their project. Knowing that each of those people will have had a positive experience with that child and imagining the flow on effects. Each of those people will be a piece of the puzzle in putting together that child’s sense of who they are and who they will become.

As adults we don’t stop shifting and changing, learning as we go. We are all being shaped and moulded every day by our experiences and those who journey with us.

Who do you have in your life who is shaping you right now?
Think back to which people you can credit with playing an important role in your past?

Back to the old expression ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, it really does, and I’m loving being able to be one piece in the puzzle for some of the children I get to work with.

 

Frances Goldfinch
Provisional Psychologist
Intern and Resilience Coach at The Resilience Centre