Pets are good for the body and the mind, and research backs it up. Pet owners are less likely to be obese, or to have high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non-pet owners. Pet owners who have suffered a heart attack exhibit faster recover rates and feel less depressed and isolated. They even live longer. In institutional settings, prisoners who participate in pet therapy programs show improved social skills and relationships with the humans in their lives. Similar results have been found in older patients who live in long-term health care facilities. Pet therapy programs have also been shown to boost the wellbeing of hospitalized children.
Add a new institution to the list: love. Recent findings, a review of pet ownership research, in Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals suggested that caring for Comet and Shadow might also teach you some of the skills that can help keep a love life alive.
The authors looked at three studies that explored the link between pets and romantic relationships in three different ways: how individuals perceive their pets’ influence on their relationship, how the romantic relationships of pet owners compare to those of people who do not keep pets, and lastly, how your pet affects your ability to empathize, a skill that is essential to good relationships (and life.)
All three studies showed positive associations between pets and partners. Pet owners overwhelmingly view their pets influence as positive on their romantic relationships. Pet owners report better relationship quality all around (including better partner responsiveness, higher level of well-adjusted relationships, and more investment in relationships) compared to couples who did not have pets. And finally, the longer a person owns a pet the higher their empathy score.
Adopting a puppy isn’t a quick fix for a romance that needs revitalizing and it won’t necessarily bring a special someone into your life. But according to Jennifer Gutstein, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist in private practice in New York, “nurturing and developing a relationship over time with a pet can help you develop some of the same skills, like empathy, that are important for success in a romantic relationship.” In other words, it’s a long game, with a potentially better love life as the prize, not to mention the snuggles, kisses and leisurely strolls that make owning a dog (or cat) so comforting and rewarding.
© Susan McQuillan