Retailers and the entire industry often focus on the fun, rewarding and fulfilling nature of pet ownership as they continuously cater to the needs of pets and their owners. But what lies beneath it all is the true power of the human-animal bond.
We often think of our interactions with pets in terms of the positive impact we have on their lives, but the positive benefits they have on our health and well-being is a hidden benefit. Anyone with a pet knows how good they make us feel, but now more than ever, we have the scientific evidence that shows animals are good for us. From depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to heart health and autism, the human-animal bond has a powerful, measurable impact on people’s lives.
What does this mean for independent retailers? I would argue that this is a new and meaningful message that retailers can use to build relationships with their current customers and to reach new customers in the community. By delivering the message of the human-animal bond and educating them on the health benefits they get from their animals, retailers give shoppers a whole new reason to provide the best care for their pets. Retailers can also provide potential pet owners with new reasons to bring pets into their families.
Delivering the message can be as simple as expanding upon health awareness months, hosting in-store and community events, or offering special discounts and promotions. February is Heart Awareness Month, April is Autism Awareness Month, and June is PTSD Awareness Month, just to name a few.
Encourage the entire community to get out and about with pets during American Heart Awareness Month and promote the benefits pets have on our cardiovascular health. Team with a local animal shelter or Heart Association chapter to host a walk-a-thon for pets and owners. Then donate a percentage of proceeds to a local shelter. Use social media and in-store materials, and invite local media to attend, to help spread the word. Not only is this great exposure for the store, it will solidify the retailer’s commitment to the community, spreading awareness about the benefits of pet ownership, and potentially earning new customers.
Retailers can always promote a healthy lifestyle and good eating habits. For example, offering special discounts and promotions on specific diet and weight-loss food for pets along with the message that pets improve our health is a great way to promote the human-animal bond. Pet stores can even offer additional services and take things one step further by incorporating a “doggie gym” or dedicated space within the store to allow pets to receive additional exercise and playtime.
Not only does research show that pets benefit our cardiovascular health, it also suggests that animal-assisted therapy can alleviate symptoms among those suffering from PTSD by helping patients, often veterans, feel more relaxed and comfortable while improving their overall well-being. Extend gratitude and support to our troops by offering discounts to veterans throughout PTSD Awareness Month or on Veterans Day.
These are just a few ideas and opportunities to help retailers connect with their customers and community on a new level by emphasizing and recognizing the many ways pets benefit our health and well-being.
At the core of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation is the research. HABRI has compiled more than 17,000 entries and studies solidifying the numerous ways animals—specifically, companion animals—positively affect human health. With industry support, we are also funding new research to further this important work.
The research verifies what we all believe–that pets provide us with much more than just love and companionship; they keep us healthy and well. I hope retailers will join me in delivering this important message to their customers, and I hope they will take the time to learn more about the human-animal bond by visiting us online at habri.org.
Steven Feldman is executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation.