The benefits of having pets extend far beyond the owners, according to new research from The University of Western Australia.
The findings have led to a handbook, Living Well Together, launched this week in Canberra and sent to every CEO, Mayor and community development officer in every council.
Following a hunch, mother-of-three and dog-owner Dr Lisa Wood from UWA's Centre for the Built Environment and Health added a few extra pet-related questions on her PhD research questionnaire.
In her original research, Dr Wood, from Doubleview, looked at three differently planned Perth suburbs to determine the extent to which neighbourhood design influenced social capital, defined as the connections, trust, and shared behaviours that bind people in communities together. When she analysed the data of pet owners and non-pet owners, she found pet owners scored more highly for social capital.
"Pet research has mostly focussed on the one-on-one benefits of owning a pet, rather than the benefits to the whole community," Dr Wood said. "Our work, published in the journal, Social Science and Medicine, showed that pets act as a lubricant for social contact and interaction. Pet owners are more likely to be involved in their local community and to exchange favours with neighbours. Research by Dr Hayley Christian in our Centre also shows that dogs motivate their owners to be more physically active and get out walking in their neighbourhood.
"Once we started looking, we were staggered to find how many examples there are of pets contributing to the social fabric of society and helping people from every walk of life. In Australia, 63 per cent of people own a pet and about 45 per cent have a dog."
Several WA council initiatives that encourage community engagement with animals are cited in the handbook. They include:
- The Town of Vincent's Britannia Reserve in Leederville, and Paws on Paths program (page 11).
- The Stirling Council's Follow My Lead walking groups (page 19).
- The Kwinana Council's responsible pet ownership focus at Peace Park and Kwinana Fun Dog Show (page 43).
- Regional and metropolitan Saving Animals From Euthanasia (SAFE) volunteer groups (page 45).
To download a free copy of Living Well Together, visit http://www.petnet.com.au/