Animals are a big part of life in America. We love our pets and they are ALL over the internet. We love them so much that we will buy whatever they are selling, from insurance geckos and pigs to Cola swigging polar bears; we seem to be taken with animals of all sorts.
Researchers have become interested in this human-animal bond too, which has sparked a number of studies on the subject. One study found that it was not pet ownership that was important-but the companionship and the bond between animal and human that contributes to improvement in overall well-being (1).
Another study (2) focused on how owning a pet contributes to dimensions of social relatedness. This study found that companion animals could act as a catalyst for other relationships. Pets were found to help people make friends, feel supported, and combat social isolation. Walking a dog creates opportunities to meet people, as a cat owner you might seek out others who have the same breed, or you could belong to a group of people who love reptiles. Pets seem to normalize social situations and act as an ‘ice-breaker’ and impetus for conversation. Animals also depend on us, creating feelings of purpose and meaning.
Although research has shown mixed results, several studies point to the benefits of human-animal interactions. Companionship has been found to be the primary benefit which contributes to psychological well-being, comfort, security and stability (3). Positive mental health outcomes of companion animals include reduced feelings of loneliness and depression (4, 5), reduction of stress (6), and improvements in self-worth and self esteem (7). These benefits are especially impactful among vulnerable populations such as the elderly, socially isolated, or chronically ill.
These benefits can be seen among the residents at Rose Hill as they interact with the animals on campus. Whether it is rounding up a heard of wayward miniature horses or cuddling a pile of furry kittens, animals create an accepting and therapeutic atmosphere. Residents build self-esteem, social and vocational skills all while enjoying the peaceful company of our furry friends.
That is a large part of why farm animal care is so popular at Rose Hill Center. Caring for animals can provide many lessons for Rose Hill residents which are transferable to other areas of life. Accepting responsibility, maintaining a schedule and managing their symptoms in the workplace are some of the skills residents learn as they gain the confidence to move on to independent living. Caring for animals is hard work-but it is in this environment of hard work and peaceful serenity that healing happens.
- Peacock, J., Chur-Hansen, A., & Winefield, H. (2012). Mental health implications of human attachment to companion animals. Journal of Clinical Psychology,68(3), 292-292.
- Wood, L., Martin, K., Christian, H., Nathan, A., Lauritsen, C., Houghton, S., . . . McCune, S. (2015). The pet factor – companion animals as a conduit for getting to know people, friendship formation and social support. Plos One,10(4).
- Sharkin, B.S., & Knox, D. (2003). Pet loss: Issues and implications for the psychologist. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34, 414–421.
- Garrity, T.F., Stallones, L., Marx, M.B., & Johnson, T.P. (1989). Pet ownership and attachment as supportive factors in the health of the elderly. Anthrozoos, 3, 35–44.
- Zasloff, R.L., & Kidd, A.H. (1994). Loneliness and pet ownership among single women. Psychological Reports, 75, 747–752
- Kidd, A.H., & Kidd, R.M. (1999). Benefits, problems, and characteristics of home aquarium owners. Psychological Reports, 84, 998–1004.
- Wells, D.L. (2007). Domestic dogs and human health: An overview. British Journal of Health Psychology, 12, 145–156