Some people should not have pets. They’re expensive and can make you sneeze. They require time, attention, and stability.
If you have allergies, don’t make yourself suffer. If you travel frequently, think twice. If you simply can’t warm to the idea of an animal companion, then by all means, forget the pet.
Otherwise, there are lots of good reasons to welcome Fido into your home, according to Elizabeth Frates, a healthy lifestyle specialist, and Megan Mueller, an expert in the psychology of human-animal relationships.
Frates, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, and Mueller, an associate professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, point out that a deep body of research demonstrates the health benefits of dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and other pets. Animals ease loneliness and boost oxytocin — the love hormone. They get us moving — even when we don’t want to — and anchor us in the present. They are conversation-starters, drawing people together and providing that initial spark of social connection.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to those benefits. Food and grooming costs, limited access to vet care, and a lack of green space are among the obstacles to pet ownership for many people.
“It’s important to understand that a lot of the institutionalized barriers that affect all kinds of human health also impact companion animals living in people’s homes,” Mueller said. “There’s a wide range of things that can either prevent people from having pets who want to have pets, or that make it more difficult or more stressful to have pets.”
On Monday, Frates and Mueller discussed efforts to change that dynamic in a conversation sponsored by the Harvard Chan School.
Among the initiatives they highlighted was Project Street Vet, a California nonprofit that provides free veterinary services to the homeless or those at risk of becoming homeless. In a video shown at the event, the project’s founder, Kwane Stewart, noted that many homeless people suffer from PTSD, a condition that companion animals help ease. Also, the responsibility that comes with caring for a pet can fuel motivation to avoid substance abuse and to seek a path to a house or an apartment, he said.