social capital

Human Animal Interaction

Pet ownership can help us build social connections and a sense of community

New international study shows pet owners experience stronger neighbourhood ties

Pet owners report stronger neighbourhood social connections than non-pet owners according to a newly published study. They were consistently more likely to report social benefits such as helpfulness, friendliness and trust between neighbours. This research adds strength to claims that pet ownership is a valuable and positive feature in community and neighbourhood life.

“The notion that pets facilitate the ‘glue’ that holds society together, or ‘social capital’ goes beyond the more commonly investigated role of pets as a social icebreaker’” said Dr Lisa Wood of the University of Western Australia who led the research. “We were interested in the extent to which pets facilitate social interactions and create the ‘ties that bind’ communities together”.

Published in the journal SSM-Population Health, the study was conducted in collaboration with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition. Researchers surveyed over 2,500 pet and non-pet owners across three US cities (San Diego; Portland; Nashville) and one Australian city (Perth). Multiple aspects of social capital were measured including helpfulness, friendliness, trust, and civic engagement. The study was the first of its kind to examine the social capital effects of pets in two different countries. Owning a pet was associated with higher social capital compared with not owning a pet at all. This finding was consistent across residents surveyed in all four cities studied.

“The stronger associations observed for dog walkers, may be related to the role of dog walking as a way of greater neighbourhood surveillance and increased perceptions of safety within a community” said Wood. “Pets in general support first meetings between neighbours, and they are often a topic of conversation over the garden fence”.

“Pet ownership brings health and social benefits and there is a growing call for the societal impact of pets to be taken seriously” said Sandra McCune, Human Animal Interaction Scientific Leader at WALTHAM. “The study adds support to this agenda and for establishing more ‘pet-friendly’ cities, towns and accommodation. For instance, parks and open spaces suitable for dog walking are essential for pet well-being, and for people to fully experience the benefits of pet ownership”.