April is National Pet Month, dedicated to raising awareness of responsible pet ownership and celebrating the benefits of having a pet. Hannah Fowler and Megane Akundabo spoke to some Nottingham experts about the benefits of owning a pooch, pussycat or any other pet.
Phil Banyard, head of the Psychology Department at Nottingham Trent University, says owning a pet has a number of benefits for wellbeing.
“One is that they seem to help distressed people,” he says. “Having a creature around that you could hold, stroke, be physically close to is obviously something human beings like doing and just holding a dog or cat and stroking it is a positive thing. It makes people feel better emotionally.”
Keeping a pet also adds structure to people’s lives, he points out.
“When you’re needed and feel loved by a pet, you have to be there for them. If it’s a dog they need walking twice a day, if it’s a cat you’ve got to get food. It adds that structure of ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to fill my day with this’. It just adds some certainty in your life and I think it’s good for people’s wellbeing and mental health.”
The Hope Animal Rescue Centre, Long Eaton, which works with mentally disabled people, also fosters the pets of people that have gone into hospital.
“I have seen that keeping their pet for them when they come home is a major benefit, they provide companionship and help with recovery,” says Susan Buck who runs the charity. We take the pets to visit their owners once a month and their faces just light up when they see them.”
Davison Veterinary Clinic, Nottingham, works with a charity called Street Vet, which provides support to homeless people with pets.
“Some people say homeless people shouldn’t have dogs because they don’t have a home and the materials needed to provide for them, but for a homeless person that’s their only link to the social life and they really do take care of them,” Shelly Bown, veterinary nurse at the clinic says.
The experts and their pets
We asked our experts how owning a pet benefits them.
Susan Buck: “I live with the foster cats, my family live in Scotland so I get lonely here” says Susan, “but with the cats I’ve always got someone that wants to sit on my lap and cuddle up, and I never have to come home to an empty house. They give huge companionship and they’re all little individuals, have their own personalities.”
Shelly Bown has two Staffordshire bull terriers: “My dogs keep me more active, I wasn’t always a sociable person I’d come to work then go back home again, but my dogs get me out. When I get home they’re there, they’re always happy, always got a wagging tail. They’re happy and I’m happy.”
Phil had a mixed breed dog and felt that he couldn’t replace him when he had gone. “He made me much more sociable because I’d go into a local pub for just a drink and once I had the dog I’d take him with me, everyone in the pub would come over and say hello. Everybody knew me after two months of going up there with the dog. It’s made me a more sociable and friendlier person. Perhaps when I stop working here I’ll maybe have a dog again.”