It’s funny how life works. You get a dog or cat because maybe you’re feeling a little lonely, and suddenly find yourself more connected to other people than ever. That’s because pets have a way of building what researchers call social capital — connections among individuals, social networks and the cooperation and trust that arise from them. In fact, a study by Researcher Dr. Lisa Wood from the University of Western Australia found that pet owners were 74% more likely than those without pets to have high social capital scores. Here are more takeaways from her extensive research on the subject.
PETS ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO HAVE MORE EMPATHY.
Dogs set a pretty high bar for this quality — they genuinely want to help those in need, whether it’s a stranger or their owner. Maybe some of that has rubbed off on pet owners? Studies have shown that having a dog around makes people more likely to trust and help each other, whether on the street or in a work situation. And pets can be especially important for helping kids grow up to be caring adults. Having a pet during childhood and adolescence not only teaches children responsibility and empathy but also strengthens their social skills and self-esteem.
MAKING FRIENDS IS EASIER WHEN YOU HAVE A PET.
Feeling alone in a big city? In one large study involving several urban areas, pet owners were significantly more likely than those without pets to make friends in their neighborhood. And of those pet owners, dog owners were five times more likely to make pals nearby. Why? Dog walks are the perfect friend-making exercise. You end up on paths or in parks frequented by other dog owners. You have an instant conversation starter when someone stops to say how cute your canine is. And you know you’ll be seeing them same time, same place on the regular.
HAVING A PET MOTIVATES YOU TO BE MORE NEIGHBORLY.
How do you go from barely saying hi at the mailbox to asking to borrow a cup of sugar? One study found that significantly more pet owners than those without pets reported giving and receiving neighborly favors (e.g., collecting mail, loaning a household item, minding a child). And that makes sense, when you consider that having a pet often means needing to trust someone to pop in and check on your dog or cat.
PETS INSPIRE COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT.
Looking for someone to join your committee? According to one study, pet owners were 57% more likely to be civically engaged than those without pets. One reason could be that there’s a lot of volunteer work that relates to animals, like helping at a shelter or getting certified to be a therapy dog team. Another factor is that spending more time in community areas like parks makes pet owners care more about preserving those resources for everyone. But most of all, maybe pet owners just have big hearts. Research shows that when communities come together to solve animal-related issues, such as animal illnesses or homeless animals, they can produce innovative solutions rooted in community cooperation and support.