The phrase “human-animal bond” is used to describe the mutually beneficial connection between humans and domesticated animals. The benefits of having animals in our lives stretches beyond just companionship. The human-animal bond has been proven to improve mental and physical health including reducing stress (particularly in socially isolated individuals), lowering blood pressure, managing depression, managing loneliness and cognitive decline in the elderly, promoting more active and healthy lifestyles, aiding development in children, and generally promoting overall better health. Having pets makes our lives better.
Pet ownership is fundamentally and unavoidably expensive. I’ll be tackling the reasons behind the high cost of modern veterinary healthcare in a separate blog post, but even if we subtract out the cost of healthcare the other fixed costs of pet ownership like food, shelter, enrichment, and other basic care can put pet ownership out of financial reach for many. Unfortunately, many of the people who have the most to gain from the human-animal bond are the ones who are least able to afford the cost of being a good pet parent. People who are elderly, homebound, disabled, or struggling through crisis of any kind (mental, physical, or financial) are the ones most likely to have their lives greatly improved by the comfort of pet ownership but often are the ones who have the most difficulty managing the financial burden that comes with providing appropriate care to a pet.
The human-animal bond is a two way street. Just as we enjoy the benefits of the companionship of our pets, we also have a responsibility to be good stewards of their health and wellbeing. Our pets may not think and talk in the same way that we do, but they do have the same physical and emotional needs. As their caretakers we need to provide appropriate food, shelter, medical care, and emotional and mental stimulation. Pet ownership is a choice and a responsibility, and one that we owe to our pet companions to take seriously.
The competing needs of the two halves of the human-animal bond leaves us at an impasse. On the one hand, the human-animal bond has tremendous power to improve human lives, especially those who are going through challenges or hardship in their lives. On the other hand, the human-animal bond carries a responsibility to be good stewards of the animals that we take into our care and to ensure that they lead healthy and fulfilling lives. There is a gap (mainly financial) that needs to be bridged to ensure that both of these needs are met. There are many charitable organizations that exist that provide aid to people struggling with the financial burden of providing care to their pets. These organizations survive off of governmental funding, private donations, or some combination of the two. It is these kinds of organizations that we at Doc Wags donate to through our Giving Back initiative.
It is my firm belief as a veterinarian, a pet owner, and a person that everyone deserves the joy of pet ownership in their lives regardless of their personal financial situation. We can’t change the fixed costs of pet ownership, but we can do our part wherever and whenever we can to give our time and money to the organizations that work to help those facing financial hardship care for their pets. By purchasing Doc Wags products a part of your purchase will be donated towards that goal, but I encourage you all to take the more impactful step of donating your time and money directly to organizations that help pets and pet owners in need. Together we can do our part to ensure that being a good pet parent is measured in love, not in dollars.
1) Friedmann, E., Son, H. (2009). The Human-Companion Animal Bond: How Humans Benefit. Vet Clin Small Anim 39, 293-326