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PLoS One. 2015 Apr 29;10(4):e0122085. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122085. eCollection 2015.

The pet factor--companion animals as a conduit for getting to know people, friendship formation and social support.

Author information

1
School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia, Australia.
2
Centre for Built Environment and Health, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia, Australia, and Telethon Kids Institute, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.
3
School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Queensland, Australia.
4
Graduate School of Education, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia, Australia.
5
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.
6
WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, Leicestershire, United Kingdom.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

While companion animals have been previously identified as a direct source of companionship and support to their owners, their role as a catalyst for friendship formation or social support networks among humans has received little attention. This study investigated the indirect role of pets as facilitators for three dimensions of social relatedness; getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks.

METHODS:

A telephone survey of randomly selected residents in four cities, one in Australia (Perth; n = 704) and three in the U.S. (San Diego, n = 690; Portland, n = 634; Nashville, n = 664) was conducted. All participants were asked about getting to know people within their neighborhood. Pet owners were asked additional questions about the type/s of pet/s they owned, whether they had formed friendships as a result of their pet, and if they had received any of four different types of social support from the people they met through their pet.

RESULTS:

Pet owners were significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than non-pet owners (OR 1.61; 95%CI: 1.30, 1.99). When analyzed by site, this relationship was significant for Perth, San Diego and Nashville. Among pet owners, dog owners in the three U.S. cities (but not Perth) were significantly more likely than owners of other types of pets to regard people whom they met through their pet as a friend (OR 2.59; 95%CI: 1.94, 3.46). Around 40% of pet owners reported receiving one or more types of social support (i.e. emotional, informational, appraisal, instrumental) via people they met through their pet.

CONCLUSION:

This research suggests companion animals can be a catalyst for several dimensions of human social relationships in neighborhood settings, ranging from incidental social interaction and getting to know people, through to formation of 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. Given growing evidence for social isolation as a risk factor for mental health, and, conversely, friendships and social support as protective factors for individual and community well-being, pets may be an important factor in developing healthy neighborhoods.

PMID:
25924013
PMCID:
PMC4414420
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0122085
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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