Strong Bonds, Bright Future
Developing strong human-animal bonds will ensure a successful future for the pet industry.
The 15th annual Global Pet Expo (GPE) means many things to many people and companies—new opportunities, reflections on years past, and aspirations for 2019 and beyond. The past 15 years have been particularly remarkable for the pet care community and, very importantly, for the human-animal bond.
Reflecting on the past and thinking about the progress we have made offers a glimpse of what can be expected for the future. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has three predictions that I hope you’ll find not only interesting, but important to the future of everyone here at GPE.
Prediction 1: Research will continue to strongly show the health benefits of pets in our lives.
HABRI was founded in 2010, nearly 10 years ago. Over the past decade, research into the health benefits of the human-animal bond has blossomed, and there are now more than 15 universities with centers dedicated to studying the human-animal bond.
HABRI is in the midst of its sixth grant-funding cycle, receiving a record 50 proposals. This year, HABRI will reach $3 million in research funding, looking at the benefits of pet ownership for mental and physical health, including preventing obesity, teen suicide and social isolation, and helping those with autism.
Prediction 2: A more pet-friendly society for all.
Pets will play an even more central role in our lives as workplaces, housing, businesses and communities take notice of research pointing to the benefits of a healthy human-animal bond. A Nationwide-HABRI survey found that pet-friendly workplaces encourage employee attraction, engagement, retention and attendance, and that when employers demonstrate they care about pets, they can build a more desirable work environment. Demand for pet-friendly housing is also increasing, as people want to have their pets with them where they live, work and everywhere in between.
While companion animals are playing a more central role in our everyday lives, they are also providing critical support for vulnerable populations, including victims of trauma. HABRI-funded research found that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience lower overall PTSD symptoms, and improvements in sleep quality and quality of life when paired with a service dog. The Pet and Women Safety Act, passed in December 2018, will provide grants to domestic violence shelters to help them accommodate the pets of victims. Many in the pet care community strongly advocated for this legislation. If you encounter any HABRI supporters on the show floor, please be sure to thank them for their efforts!
As research continues to demonstrate the positive influence of companion animals on a wide range of human health conditions, policies and programs needed to help create a more pet friendly society will become increasingly important.
Prediction 3: Strong demand for products that strengthen the human-animal bond.
Pet ownership continues to remain strong. Millennials, who will make up half the workforce by next year, are now the largest subset of pet owners. Hand in hand with this shift, more pet owners are treating their pets as family, meaning they want, and are willing to spend on, what’s best for their animal companions.
We know from HABRI research that changes in attitude and increased knowledge of the science behind the human-animal bond can positively impact pet owner behavior. For example, millennials are making important life decisions, like buying homes based, on the needs of their furry family members. Pets are even shaping our interpersonal relations—two thirds (66 percent) of pet owners say “my feelings towards people are affected by the way they react to my pets.”
This translates to a higher demand for products and services that treat pets like family, from higher quality nutrition, pet health insurance and all of the things you see around you on the show floor—innovative products that make it easier to take the best care of our pets.
Surrounded by animal lovers here at GPE, some of these predictions might seem obvious. But thinking about how pets are influencing and transforming society, I believe that this is a positive indicator for a growing pet industry and, I hope, a bright future for your pet business.
Steven Feldman is executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI).