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Kendal at Oberlin Blog

Social Benefits of Owning a Pet

Posted by Molly Kavanaugh on Apr 5, 2016 10:54:18 AM

social-pets.jpgNew Yorker Michelle Kennedy credits her love of dogs for introducing her to the love of her life. She was rollerblading in Central Park when she stopped to pet his Golden Retriever puppy.

“I saw the adorable dog first, and as I usually do, I went straight to the dog to pet her, not even noticing the blond, blue-eyed man at the other end of the leash,” she told Modern Dog magazine about the man who became her husband.

Michelle also met her business partner through their mutual fondness for dogs.

While Michelle’s experience may top the social scales, most pet owners will tell you how their four-legged friends routinely lead them into conversations, interactions and even friendships. We know there are plenty of physical and emotional health benefits of owning a dog or cat, but there also social health benefits too.

Check out our Emotional Wellness Guide for more ideas on how to take control of your happiness!

Pets and People

Years ago, people pretty much interacted with other pet owners while walking their dog around the block or in a nearby park, or feeding the neighbor’s feline.  

Today, pet owners take their pooch to dog parks and pet stores, parades and competitions, on boats and in RVs, and to pet-friendly restaurants and vacations. There’s even yoga with dog classes, called doga.

Sometimes the conversation is short and sweet. What’s his name? How old is she? A pat and wave goodbye, and both people part with a smile. Other times, cell phones are pulled out to take photographs and arrange play dates.

Benefits for old and young

No surprise that research has shown that pets promote interaction with others. According to Drs. Foster and Smith Educational Staff, a study in a veteran's hospital found that the residents had more verbal interactions with each other when a dog was present in the room than when there was no dog present.

Assisted and skilled nursing residents were more likely to attend sessions when an animal was going to be present. And pets help Alzheimer’s patients feel more connected to others.

WedMD medical experts report other benefits.

“Studies have shown that Alzheimer's patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home," said Lynette Hart, PhD, associate professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.  

"Their caregivers also feel less burdened when there is a pet, particularly if it is a cat, which generally requires less care than a dog," she added.

And animals help ease people out of social isolation or shyness, tells WebMD.

"People ask about breed, they watch the dog's tricks," said Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta. "Sometimes the conversation stays at the 'dog level,' sometimes it becomes a real social interchange."

Pets can be especially beneficial to older adults, according to HelpGuide.org:

“Retirement, illness, death, and relocation can take away close friends and family members. And making new friends can get harder. Dogs are a great way for older adults to spark up conversations and meet new people.”

And a study of young adults, ages 18 to 26, found social benefits too.  Researchers found that young men and women who had strong attachments to pets were also more likely to feel more connected to their communities and relationships, and serve in leadership roles.

Maybe a Matchmaker

And as Michelle Kennedy found, puppy love can bring true love. That’s true no matter one’s age.

As 71-year-old Emma Cooper, widowed nearly eight years, told Psychology Today Canine Corner columnist Stanley Coren:

"I was out walking Surrey, my cocker spaniel and this man stopped to give him a pat. He seemed like a nice man and told me that he used to have a blonde cocker spaniel just like Surrey. We started to talk about living with dogs and then stopped for a cup of coffee. Well one thing led to another and Bill and I are getting married next month--as soon as we can find a clergyman who is willing to let a dog stand in as the best man!"

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Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.


Topics: Healthy Aging

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