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Features March 2014 Issue

Walking Fido Helps Form Friendships

In Australia’s Perth and in San Diego, Portland, and Nashville here in the states, dogs owners all say the same thing: having a dog not only insures that they get some physical activity but also increases their chances of making more friends in their neighborhood. When surveyed by researchers at the University of Western Australia, some 2,700 adults in all four cities said they got to know people where they live because of their dog walking. In fact, dog owners were five times more likely to have come to know people in their neighborhoods through their pets compared with owners of other species of pets. Moreover, more than half considered one or more of the people they met through their dog to be their friends, not simply their acquaintances. Fully one in three even felt they could ask a favor of someone they met through their pet. Indeed, dog walking was found to be one of the most common mechanisms of friendship formation, after “being neighbors,” “streets and parks,” and “community events.”

Better still, because of the presence of dog walkers, people perceived their neighborhoods to be safer. Better health, more friendships, better protection of their communities. Having a dog to walk is clearly a win-win-win.

It has long been known that companion animals confer a one-to-one benefit, say the researchers, but it’s time to shine a spotlight on the “ripple effect that pets can have on the social fabric of the broader community.”

“Fostering social bridges between people is not merely a nicety,” they add, “but is increasingly recognized as important for mental health. This research suggests that companion animals may be an under-recognized mechanism for strengthening social networks and access to social support.”

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