If you chat with anyone who has a pet, they will often ooze unconditional love. And some will talk about their little family member as long as you’ll let them. The one with a character bigger than Ben-Hur. This furry or feathered friend can be the centre of some people’s worlds. And a neighbourhood icon!

Elderly man holding his dog
Feros Care goes against the grain, supporting the inclusion of companion animals in the lives of older people in residential care and in their own homes.

While they may be small in stature, our animal companions play a big role in strengthening neighbourhood ties, according to Associate Professor Lisa Wood. She’s from the Centre for Social Impact and School of Population Health at the University of WA and has studied this topic for years.

“For many pet owners, their pets also facilitated relationships from which they derived tangible forms of social support, both of a practical and emotionally supportive nature,”

She says pets can help to build “social capital”. By this she means they’re a positive predictor for mental health, crime deterrence, education, and community safety. In simpler terms, pets help to break down the barriers between strangers. After all, strangers are friends we don’t know yet, right?

Results of A/Professor Wood’s 2015 study on pets being a conduit for getting to know people showed pet owners were “significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighbourhood than non-pet owners”. The research suggests our little mates may be a catalyst for connecting with those who live nearby through incidental social interaction and forming new friendships.

“For many pet owners, their pets also facilitated relationships from which they derived tangible forms of social support, both of a practical and emotionally supportive nature,” the study states.

Given ageing populations, housing affordability and many people living in more concentrated areas, A/Prof Wood suggests society may need to rethink who can own a pet and where they can live. When two thirds of the population has a pet, she believes our towns and cities need to be pet-friendly.

Sadly, Australia remains ahead of many countries with a ‘no pets policy’ in many rentals, apartment complexes, and aged care facilities. However, Feros Care goes against the grain, supporting the inclusion of companion animals in the lives of older people in residential care and in their own homes.

“The potential for pets to enrich the social fabric of communities has strong appeal in an era of global uncertainty, frenetic ‘busyness’ and technology-driven communications,” A/Prof Wood says, adding pets may be an important factor in developing healthy neighbourhoods.

So, who’s for walkies then? Shall we go sniff out some new friends? Ruff!

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