Companion Animals Make Us Happier
Photo copyright Helmi Flick
We know this (or should) but it is worth reminding ourselves that companion animals make us happier. In the UK, the prime minister, David Cameron, has referred to the need to think about ways to make us happier. I guess that is the ultimate goal for all of us. He recently criticised a local authority for forbidding street parties in celebration of the forthcoming royal wedding. He said that if we want to have a street party, we should have it and have some fun. I agree. A lot of us desperately need more fun.
Cats provide us with an endless source of fun. Mine make me laugh and they slow me down nicely when I need it. My cats settle me down. Professor Ed Diener, University of Illinois says that “One of the most important influences on happiness is social relationships.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk). A relationship with a companion animal is very much a social relationship.
Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) conducted a survey of over 2,000 companion animal caretakers, who believed that they were happier than people who did not keep companion animals.
One of the key elements to feeling happier is to feel more relaxed. Sixty percent of the people in the PFMA survey say that their companion animals make them feel more relaxed. One third say that they make them a healthier person. Perhaps this is linked to being more relaxed. Eighty-one percent say that their companion animal are an “antidote to a bad mood”.
I’ll describe a classic way in which my lady cat makes me feel happier. Like a lot of people, despite being retired I am fairly busy – what happened!? She comes up to me and asks to be lifted on to the bed for some cuddles. Being well trained, I obey. We spend the next ten minutes interacting. I cuddle her, stroke her and maybe I might flea comb her. She likes that. She exchanges her scent with mine by rubbing the side of her face against my hands. She sniffs me and head butts me. I kiss her. OK, point made; I have slowed down and have spent a very enjoyable few minutes with an individual who loves me and who connects with me. I am bound to feel happier.
Now for the downside. Many people are not responsible “pet owners”. Despite the benefits that companion animals bring to our lives an estimated 6 - 8 million find their way to shelters each year in the USA. Of these 61% of dogs are killed and 75% of cats are killed. Apparently it was worse in 1973 when 13 million shelter animals were killed (source: Madison County Humane Society). In the USA, there are about the same number of feral cats on the street as there are domestic cats in homes. It is probably similar the world over. Something fundamental has gone wrong.
Our companion animals make us happier yet we slaughter them needlessly by the millions every year.