A few years ago I was chatting to a man on a train. ‘Did you know that pets are good for you?’, I asked him. I went on to describe the benefits of keeping pets. I explained how relaxing it is to stroke a purring cat, how much easier it is to go for a healthy walk if a dog is by your side, and how people living alone can find comfort from the company of an animal.
The man listened for a while, and then said ‘You’ve no proof of any of these benefits. I simply don’t believe you. Some fools may enjoy the company of lesser beings such as animals, but for most rational humans, an animal in the house is just a nuisance’.
I argued my case as convincingly as I could, because I did have a genuine belief in the all-round benefits of humans sharing their lives with animals. However, I could not persuade this man – he insisted that he needed facts and figures. Without these, I was simply another biased salesman, with no real substance to my sales pitch.
Since then, I have been on the lookout for solid proof to back up my argument. Researchers have studied the effect pets have on people. There is now a sizeable body of evidence which confirms, using statistically significant results, that pets are good for humans. If pets were a new medicine, there would now be enough proof for them to be given a licence to be prescribed by doctors!
A psychiatrist who was having problems with a disturbed adolescent. He could not make his patient talk to him, and without communication, he could not help him. Then one day, the boy arrived early for his appointment, and the psychiatrist’s dog happened to be in the room. The psychiatrist was astonished when his patient started petting the dog, and at the same time talking to it. The psychiatrist went on to use his dog as an intermediary. He was able to encourage the boy to tell him the full story of his troubled life, through questions and answers to the dog. Since that incident, much work has been carried out by psychiatrists, using pets to help mentally disturbed people communicate.
A recent study followed the progress of human patients who had undergone major heart surgery. It was found that those patients who shared their lives with animals lived for longer than those who did not keep pets. This effect applied when people kept cats, as well as dogs, so it was not simply due to the increased exercise which dog owners might enjoy. The reason for the effect is not exactly known, but the bottom line is that pets definitely made these people live for longer.
Another study analysed how pet keeping affected elderly people who lived alone. The study measured how many hours of ‘paid care worker time’ were needed for each person. At the start of the study, an average of 40 hours a week of human help was needed per patient. Six months after a patient had been given a pet, the amount of care time needed had reduced to about ten hours per week. Different control studies were carried out to ensure that the result was genuine, and remarkably, this finding was consistently repeatable. Again, nobody knows exactly why pets helped these people so much. The proven fact remained that not only did patients enjoy keeping their pets, but the animals were cost-effective, reducing the need for expensive paid help.
I hope to meet that man on the train again one day. I have the proof to back up my argument now. Pets are good for people, and that is a fact.