The benefits of pet ownership
Speak to any pet owner and they will reel off an endless list of ways that animal companions can change lives. Pets can be our best friends, confidants, motivators and even our teachers. In many cases, they also improve our wellbeing and health. For some people, pets are quite simply a lifeline. It’s no wonder that an estimated 12 million, or 44 per cent, of households in the UK have pets.
But it’s not always that we think about the hugely positive social and emotional connection pets have with our society. And while every relationship between animal and owner is unique, here are some of the many benefits that pets bring to millions of people the world over. We've also taken a look at how some former Blue Cross pets are changing lives for the better along the way.
Health and fitness
It’s true, pets really are good for your health – and the medical benefits have long been lauded. Having a dog improves fitness as it encourages you to get out walking more, and even playing with your dog or cat indoors when you’d otherwise be lying idle on the sofa can loosen up those limbs and get the blood pumping around your body. Horse ownership brings with it plenty of exercise too, and is often used as a form of rehabilitation and therapy for those with injuries or disabilities. Staying fit and active, whatever your age, helps to prevent a whole host of illnesses, and pets give people that motivation to keep moving.
Various pieces of research also suggest that merely stroking a pet can lower blood pressure, therefore reducing the likelihood of heart problems or strokes. Studies have even produced evidence showing that children who grow up with pets are less likely to develop allergies. And then there are dogs that have been known to sniff out life-threatening diseases. Pets are, undisputedly, the very best medicine.
Sarah Franklin was on the lookout for a faithful hound to join her in her adventures exploring the great British outdoors and rehomed Tigger in March 2016.
Now, the once shy stray staffie even joins her in one of her favourite pastimes: paddleboarding, and sits dutifully on the end of her board in his doggy lifejacket.
Sarah said: “We do all sorts together. We go hiking, he comes out running with me, we do agility together – which Tigger is miles better at that I am – he comes paddleboarding, we’ve been sailing and canoeing; pretty much everything!”
Anything that encourages you to get out and explore the great outdoors helps to improve mental wellbeing, and in many cases pet ownership does this. But, again, even when you’re inside, snuggles on the sofa with your cat, dog, hamster or rabbit can reduce stress and lift our mood due to the so-called happy hormones, or endorphins, that it releases (these are the same chemicals that help to reduce blood pressure). That’s why pets have long been used to provide therapy to those in hospitals, care homes and hospices.
In fact, Blue Cross has seen first-hand the therapeutic benefits that pets can bring. We have rehomed dogs, cats and even ponies that have gone on to become therapy pets, whether that’s helping children with learning challenges or bringing comfort to terminally ill patients.
Pets can make a house a home, and that’s certainly the case for a very special Blue Cross cat living alongside elderly people in a residential care scheme.
Libby was rehomed by our Hertfordshire centre to Fosse House in St Albans and spends her days spreading joy to those that live there, contently weaving her way in and out of rooms and snuggling up beside them in the lounge.
It has proved to be the perfect calling for the abandoned puss, who sadly arrived at Blue Cross in the back of a taxi, all alone and with no details about her past to help us understand her needs.
More than a third of people in a recent Blue Cross survey described their first pet as a best friend. Pets make us laugh, cheer us up when we’re feeling at our worse or are unwell and they are a non-judgemental shoulder to cry on. They never share our secrets, and bring us comfort when we need it the most. Pets can become our soulmates without uttering a single word.
They get us out exploring the world with them, and can even act as icebreakers that encourage us to meet new friends when we’re out and about; almost a quarter of pet owners recently surveyed by Blue Cross said they had met somebody through their four-legged friend.
Naomi Baskerville was six years old when she first teamed up with ‘John Willy Parker’ at a riding school local to where she lived.
The pair was inseparable and after two years of helping Naomi learn to ride, John Willy became Naomi’s very own pony. But by age 14, Naomi was outgrowing the small pony and she eventually had to part ways with her beloved pet.
She never forgot him, though, and thanks to Blue Cross she has now been reunited with her childhood best friend 20 years on.
For some people, pets aren’t just their best friends – they are their sole companions. Loneliness can affect people of any age, and pets work miracles in transforming the lives of those who feel alone and isolated. Owning a pet gives people a routine and a sense of purpose; a reason to get up in the morning. Older pet owners are also more likely to take exercise or play with their pets.
This is why Blue Cross encourages all elderly care homes to have a clear pet policy in place and, wherever possible, allow residents to take their pet with them into care to prevent the heartbreaking prospect of giving them up. After all, they may also be the last link to a deceased spouse or happy memory.
Julie Loade was left heartbroken when her beloved husband passed away, but Blue Cross rescue dog Dusty helped her through her darkest hour.
The energetic cavapoo brought some joy back into Julie's life, helping her to cope with her grief and tackle the unbearable loneliness she felt.
They are best friends and Julie even says that she's "still here" because of the lovable dog.
Dusty is a shining example of how pets can help conquer loneliness.
Pets are care-free and live life to the full, so can be the ultimate role models for humans. They may also be more effective at motivating people to achieve their healthy living and wellbeing goals than celebrity workout videos and social media fitness experts, Blue Cross research has shown. Indeed, pets only drink water, exercise every day, sleep well and - with responsible owners - they usually eat a healthy diet. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed by Blue Cross agreed that their pets would inspire them to achieve their healthy living ambitions.
For some of history's greats, their pets have even been their muses. Who knows where the world of science would be if it hadn’t been for Einstein’s beloved housecat, Tiger? The physicist would spend hours watching his feline friend as he meditated his most seminal theories, which shape physics and astronomy to this day. And it was a lame sheepdog named Dap that inspired trailblazing nurse Florence Nightingale to enter the medical profession after she got the dog back on all four paws.
Some pets have not only changed their owner’s life, they have also shaped the course of human history.
To celebrate the role of pets throughout the ages, Blue Cross dived into the history books to find the top historical figures whose stories may have been very different without their trusted four-legged companions.
More than half of people surveyed by Blue Cross said their first pet taught them unconditional love or the meaning of friendship. Studies show that having pets during childhood can improve levels of empathy in youngsters and help to build up confidence. Research has even shown that reading a story to a dog can improve a child’s literary skills. Indeed, pets can teach people of all ages about responsibility and kindness.
For ponies so small, Dame Maggie and Princess Rose have had an enormous impact on many lives.
The mother and daughter Shetlands rehomed by Blue Cross work as therapy animals, comforting terminally ill patients at hospices, inspiring children and adults with learning difficulties and even helping to steer troubled youths away from crime.
One of their regular visitors is Katy Shaw, 21, who has autism and very limited communications skills.
Before she met Maggie and Rose, she didn't like brushing her hair or letting anyone else near it, but since grooming the ponies, she likes having it done herself. It's just one of the many ways the ponies have helped to transform her life.
Pets help people in so many ways, and they depend entirely on us; that’s why taking on a pet needs to be a carefully considered decision. Read our top tips on choosing the right pet here.