Saturday, 20 November 2010

Social Inequality and Pets

As research evidence continues to accumulate about the positive benefits that pets can have on people's health, from individual owners through to entire neighbourhoods, let's give serious consideration to social inequality.

For decades, research has shown that health outcomes tend to differ with social status, and this body of knowledge has immense policy relevance. Meanwhile, social support protects against disease to an extent that is comparable to quitting smoking. Not only are risky behaviours concentrated in disadvantaged groups, but there seems to be something about being disadvantaged that eats away at health.

This social gradient in health could be exacerbated by barriers to pet ownership. People who surrender pets to animal welfare charities are disproportionately renters with low incomes, research has confirmed. Meanwhile, our group has highlighted that in previous qualitative research on physical activity in parks, dogs are beneficial influences in many contexts, but are also be perceived as a security concern, particularly by women in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Programs to help people keep their pets during periods of housing and food insecurity could be important for health. In the US, food banks increasingly distribute pet food and supplies, reported the New York Times earlier this year. Food bank use across Canada has broken previous records, meanwhile, and Calgary is no exception to this trend, reported Jenna McMurray in the The Calgary Sun this week.

People will often feed themselves before their pets, and being able to keep caring for a beloved pet can make all the difference in the world to adults as well as children. Even in the poorest countries of the world, like Chad, people keep and value pets.

I applaud the Calgary Food Bank's practice of screening routinely for the presence of pets in client homes. For every cash or on-line donation of $1, the Calgary Food Bank can purchase at least $4 worth of products.


Mathieu said...

Is animal ownership beneficial to your health across income level?

Or is it just that healthier and/or richer people are more likely to have pets?

Melanie Rock said...

Hello Mathieu,
I'm about to respond to your questions in a new post.
Cheerfully, Melanie