Pets and Us: The Benefits of Owning Pets

Pet ownership can be highly rewarding, filled with many different benefits. Pets can help with serving as companions, improving their owner’s mental health and forming healthier communities. Photo by Caleb Byrne.

I’ll kick this off with a short story. When I was a child my family had a cat. My parents found her on the street after she followed them all the way across the country from where they lived in New York to Portland. They called the cat Sydney, but everyone called her Sid Vicious (after the musician). This was because Sydney hated everyone except my dad. She existed in a state of vengeful rage. She was vengeful of the hand that fed, the hand that pet, and even the hand that was minding its own business. Being a child with no self control, I received my fair share of scratches. Despite the fact that I spent my formative years being gnawed on, I never hated or feared cats. I was heartbroken when she died. Since then, my family has adopted two more cats who fill the house with joy and a concerning amount of cat dander.

Pet ownership has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life (ownership is a loose term as I don’t pay for them and they literally walk all over me). Think of this article as my case for the benefits of pet ownership.

  1. Pets can serve as companions in ways that people cannot. Any pet owner will tell you that they have a completely unique connection to their pets. People can often be tricky to figure out, but with a pet there’s no need to navigate the treacherous waters of social interaction.
  2. Having a pet that you’re passionate about is a great ice breaker. Walking a dog is a great excuse to leave your house and meet others who are out and about. Even if you have an unwalkable pet you can still have meaningful interactions. On multiple occasions I’ve overheard someone asking if they can come over to play with a pet. If you flex your cat on enough people, it’s only a matter of time.
  3. Mental health is also an added bonus of having an adorable parasite in your home. Pets have been shown to reduce stress, which can have a positive effect on one’s mental state. In a study conducted by BMC Psychiatry, it was found that pets can assist those with mental health issues by creating a more comfortable environment.
  4. Pets also help to build communities. A 2015 study conducted by The Pet Connections of 2000 in Nashville, Portland, and San Diego found that pet owners were more likely to know their neighbors than those without pets. Another study by Wells D. L. from 2015 found that having a friendly pet increased trust between strangers, making it easier to forge new relationships.

Pets help to form healthier communities as well as to improve the personal lives of those in them. They serve as catalysts for meaningful relationships and add a much needed calm to a world that can often move at a breakneck pace. “I think there is definitely the benefit of companionship and in a way a friendship,” says Sam Brinda (dog owner) when asked about the benefits of pet ownership. “Pets can help with the release of stress, and I guess dogs kind of fit an active lifestyle because you can take them everywhere and do everything with them.” A study conducted of pet owners found that dog owners were in fact slightly above average in terms of exercise and general health, though the same study indicated that dog owners often already live more active lifestyles. Fish are a widely owned pet that falls under the “exotic” classification. “Some people claim that fish can be therapeutic [when watched] and I guess I sort of agree, but I wouldn’t necessarily use that term,” says Adrian Lyne (fish owner). “Fish [are] probably more calm or entrancing than therapeutic.”

For many, their pets are a source of calm and relaxation, both physical and mental. While the type of pet may not be the same, the benefits are universal.

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