More Than a Furry Companion: The Ripple Effect of Companion Animals on Neighborhood Interactions and Sense of Community

in Society & Animals
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Abstract

Companion animals (pets) exemplify the affinities possible between humans and nonhuman animals. Evidence documenting a diversity of emotional, physical, and therapeutic benefits of pet guardianship (ownership) substantiates sentimental anecdotes from pet owners. Although the literature focuses primarily on the "one to one" benefits accruing from interactions with pets, this paper explores the potential role of pets as facilitators of social interactions and sense of community. The paper uses triangulation to synthesize findings from qualitative and quantitative research undertaken in three Western Australian suburbs. The qualitative data derive from 12 focus groups and quantitative data, from a survey of 339 residents. In both qualitative and quantitative research, pet ownership positively associated with social interactions, favor exchanges, civic engagement, perceptions of neighborhood friendliness, and sense of community. Pets appeared to ameliorate some determinants of mental health such as loneliness. Findings suggest pets have a ripple effect extending beyond their guardians (owners) to non-pet owners and the broader community. Given the high rates of pet residency in neighborhoods, there is merit in further considering the nexus between pets and community health and well being.

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