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Pets and Mental Health

Animals in a home may serve as a talisman against loneliness and depression. They may add a sense of safety and protection. They may encourage physical activity and social interaction with one's neighbors. They can be outlets of hobbies and opportunities for club interests. They may be the substitutes for children absent. The responsibilities and daily rituals of care may provide a touchstone of reality. They may divert one's cares and troubles. They are socially-acceptable conversation pieces and opportunities for touching.

There is greater "plasticity" in pet/human relationships than in most human/human relationships: rules regulating roles in parental, sibling, marital and friendship relationships are more socially structured and codified.

Pets may serve as a "clock," providing a sense of order and a daily ritual for people. Pets may give us a realistic, naturalistic touchstone, a baseline of animal behavior against which we can sometimes compare our own troubles and put our own lives into perspective:

Pets have frequently been described as non-threatening and non-judgmental companions. "The unambivalent nature of the exchange of affection between people and animals differs from exchanges with close family members and other relatives. Pets are a source of comfort that can be scheduled on demand of the owner, in almost any quantity, without bargaining or supplication," argued researchers Aaron Katcher and Erika Friedmann.

"Perhaps the most important health-related aspect of the human-animal relationship is play," said Robert Fagen of the University of Pennsylvania. "Animals that play are healthier and frequently live longer than those that don't. I would be willing to bet that interacting with an animal makes a person more sensitive in relationships with other human

The presence of pets in a household seems to contribute to the development of children's trust and self-esteem. Pets have also been observed to contribute to the development of ego strength in people in institutions.