We have very special relationships with animals we keep as pets. I’m sure anyone who has had the privilege of sharing their life with a companion animal will agree.
According to the survey, people look to their pets for all manner of interactions including using them as confidantes, matchmakers, personal trainers and possibly even therapists.
More reliable than people
The study revealed that 53 per cent of people who keep animals as pets find them more reliable than people. I’m not sure whether this says more about how the animals behave or how people treat each other..
Ninety per cent talk to their pets and one-third have confided to them their deepest, darkest secrets. Perhaps not surprisingly, women are more likely to confide in pets than men.
Keeping people healthy
Keeping animals as pets is also a good way of getting healthy and 67 per cent of people believe their pets help to keep them active.
73 per cent of people believe pets can sniff out illness. This has been proven to be the case, with dogs’ amazing ability to smell enabling them to detect lung and breast cancers. Shiri Joshua, a psychotherapist who specializes in animal-human relationships says: "Companion animals are very sensitive to their owner's emotions and energy because they share their space. They are able to sense when things are not right and respond accordingly. They often pick up on our moods and even physical illness before we are aware of it ourselves."
This might go toward explaining why 61 per cent of survey respondents said their pets deal with them differently when they are sick. Animals have also been found to help people deal with illness and people believe their animals helped lift their spirits.
Animals can make us feel better. 86 per cent of people believe pets can help lift a bad mood. I’d certainly agree with that – a wagging tail or reassuring purr is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. They also make great companions, reflected in the finding that 82 per cent of retirees feel less alone in their home because of pets.
Animals can also help us have better relationships with other people. According to the survey 61 per cent of people who keep animals as pets say their neighbours talk to them more when they are with their pet, and about 41 per cent say their pets have helped them begin a new relationship with someone they might not have otherwise met.
Shiri says: "Sharing a life with a companion animal actually acts as a catalyst for human-to-human interaction; by observation alone, it's quite obvious that people talk to one another, laugh and smile more if there is a pet involved," She added : “I once spoke with a woman who was quite depressed before she adopted her puppy. Her dog helped her open up to the world and she met her husband shortly after. She says if it wasn't for her pet, she never would have learned how to trust others and build strong relationships. Her pet helped her connect with people."
What we can learn
We have a lot to learn from other animals. As Shiri says: "There are many reasons why people trust their pets, but what's really important is that we learn from their behaviour. We can honour what they teach us by offering the same gifts to the people in our lives; namely, by being kinder as human beings towards one another." Indeed, as animal behaviour scientist and author Marc Bekoff has said: “..we can look not only to our companion animals but also to wild animals to learn about compassion, kindness, empathy, and cooperation, for those are the predominant ways in which they interact.”
There is a growing interest in the study of human-animal relationships. Anthrozoology studies the role of animals in the lives of humans, and vice versa. It is sometimes referred to as ‘human animal interaction’ or the ‘human animal bond’ and is showing the importance of the role that nonhuman animals play in our lives, especially those with whom we share our homes.
Improve your life
About 8 million dogs and 8 million cats are kept as pets in the UK. People have differing views on the keeping of animals as pets and some people question the benefits for the animals themselves; undoubtedly certain animals are more or less suitable to be kept than others. However what is clear is that there are potentially huge benefits for those people who choose to keep the right types of animals as pets.
If you are thinking of bringing an animal into your life then please carefully consider the time and financial implications of properly caring for it. If you decide to go ahead don’t buy an animal from a breeder or pet shop but instead get in touch with a rescue or re-homing centre. Giving a safe and loving home to an unwanted rescued animal can be a truly rewarding and humbling experience.