The Value of Pets
It is up to the pet industry to continue to inform the general public about the benefits of pets.
One of the most cited statistics related to the pet industry is that 65 percent of U.S. households own a pet. Dogs and cats are the most popular pets, with fish, birds, small mammals and reptiles rounding out the list.
Professional pet caretakers play many key roles in ensuring these pets and their human companions are able to have as healthy and long-term a relationship as possible—from breeding, transportation, manufacturing food, and providing veterinary care, pet products and grooming. The benefits are known to pet owners, as well as pet care professionals.
As an industry, we’ve recognized the benefits of pets for a while. Thankfully, scientific research is now proving us right.
Benefits Across the Board
A growing body of data shows that human beings are improved by the presence of pets. Studies on child development and education, the elderly suffering from dementia and those with heart problems all show improvement thanks to the presence of pets. Pet owners also save the health care system billions by having fewer doctor appointments and dog walking is linked to lower obesity.
These benefits are difficult to provide to millions of pet lovers without access to pets—which is where ethical breeders and stores come in. A study published in early 2017 showed that America’s animal shelters cannot provide all of the dogs needed for the pet-loving public. Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine found that shelters adopt out 2.6 million dogs and return almost one million to owners each year. This compares to eight million dogs that are taken into American homes each year, a difference of more than four million annually.
Pet ownership doesn’t just benefit pet owners. As shown in the first economic impact study of the industry, published by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) last year, pet owners spent $2,400 per second on their pets in 2015—more than on movies and daycare. This provided the income and compensation necessary to support or provide 1.3 million jobs. Check out the national data and state-level data at our website, www.pijac.org.
Ongoing Work is Important and Diverse
Possibly the leader in researching the importance of relationships between humans and pets is the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). As discussed in these pages last month by HABRI executive director Steve Feldman, several new studies are examining how cats benefit humans. One of those studies will examine whether a particularly vulnerable segment of the U.S. population—the elderly who live alone—benefit from having an adopted cat.
HABRI also commissioned a recent study conducted by Purdue University, which found that veterans with service dogs had lower levels of depression, lower social isolation and missed work less on the basis of health, compared to veterans with PTSD who did not have a service dog. PIJAC, HABRI and veterans’ groups are urging Congress to pass the Pets Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act so that even more veterans can have service dogs.
PIJAC is engaging in its own important roles in science-based knowledge and practices. We combined forces with national aquatic businesses and those in the Hawaiian aquarium trade to provide an environmental review of the sustainability of the aquarium fishing trade. Hawaii’s fishers and divers have largely been out of work for months thanks to courts and regulator decisions, so this review was designed to be as thorough as possible. The coalition is confident that this assessment carefully considers the many studies conducted on Hawaii’s environment over the last two decades and that it will therefore show that the trade is sustainable and in line with existing Hawaii laws.
Research is Key to a Bright Future
Animal welfare is at the heart of the responsible pet trade. We at PIJAC see it through our members’ work, and through leaders who serve on our committees and on our Board of Directors. Pet care professionals see it through the quality animals, services and products provided to tens of millions of happy companion animal owners.
Outsiders see what you do very differently. It therefore falls to all members of the trade to combine professional experiences, best practices and irrefutable science to ensure America’s future is filled with pets. From HABRI to Mississippi State to Hawaii, the science is more clearly than ever proving that pet care professionals are critical to ensuring that future can come to pass. PB
Dustin Siggins is director of communications and public affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC). He can be reached at Dustin@PIJAC.org.