With Pets Like These, Who Needs People?

Without a doubt, people really love their pets. According to several polls from the Associated Press, 35% of pet owners have included their furry friends in a family portrait, 30% allow their pets to sleep in bed with them, and a whopping 25% of married or cohabitating pet owners believe that their pet is a better listener than their significant other. And that’s not all; there’s even some evidence to suggest that your pet can make you healthier. Heart attack victims who own pets are less likely to die within a year of the attack, and elder patients with pets require fewer physician visits than their non-owner counterparts.1

With animal companions like these, who needs other people? From polls and stories, it seems pretty clear: We’re close with our pets (sometimes disturbingly so), and their involvement in our lives makes us happier and healthier. But where anecdotes and polling data have thrived, science has somewhat struggled. Bearing in mind the simple fact that causality claims require controlled experiments, the concept of randomly assigning some participants to pet ownership while assigning others to a ban on furry friendship poses an ethical dilemma. With a literature built entirely out of correlational studies, how do we know if pets really make people healthier and happier, or if healthy, happy people are just more likely to own pets?  Read Article

By Jason G. Goldman

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