“My story begins in London not so very long ago. Yet so much has happened since then, that it seems like an eternity. At that time I lived with my pet in a bachelor flat just off Regents Park. It was a beautiful spring day, a tedious time of the year for bachelors. Oh … that’s my pet, Roger Radcliff, a musician of sorts. I’m the one with the spots. My name’s Pongo.” —101 Dalmations (1961)
In the expected progression of things, one falls in love, gets married, buys a nice two-story house in the suburbs with a yard, adopts a dog, has the anticipated pair of children, and then lives happily ever after. Although there are a number of problems with this idea, most of us still unconsciously abide by these rules or at least feel badly when we do not.
If I received a penny every time that heard, “Oh, I’d love to get a dog/cat/rabbit/hamster/sea monkey, but I want to wait until I have a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/partner” I’d have enough spare change to stock the DSW loafer warehouse. I challenge the idea that we must wait until we are settled in a stable relationship in a nice two-story house with a yard to own a furry creature of our own. Most of this discussion here specifically refers to dogs — as somehow, the bit about needing regular relief walks really seems to fluster a lot of people — but more generally applies to any animal with whom we choose to share our homes. Financial barriers are one thing. But assuming that you possess the funds, if you live alone, date occasionally, and tend to spend your share of Saturday nights watching Netflix, this argument is for you.
Take, well, me for example. I live in a 350 sq. ft. studio in the middle of New York City–an apartment about the size of a nice corner office, but with a bathtub and stovetop. I have a full-time job that involves a 45-minute commute. My paycheck covers rent, food, other necessities, and a few nights out without a whole lot left over. I live alone, date occasionally, and spend a lot of time watching old seasons of the X-Files. I also share this cubicle with a sometimes unruly, but totally lovable, 42-lb golden retriever mix that has a penchant for puddle-jumping and chewing holes in my socks. And there has never been anyone so happy to see me when I come home after a long day.
Single people uniquely benefit from pet ownership. Anecdotally, if you don’t already spend a lot of time with a loving human (or three), it makes sense that having a furry creature to greet you at the door and keep you company on otherwise long and lonely winter nights would boost your happiness. And the research backs this up. Most of the studies have shown a positive effect on older adults, but a survey released among 300 adolescents also revealed lower levels of loneliness in pet-owners compared to non-pet owners . In this study, loneliness was also inversely related to the strength of the animal-human bond. Other research has shown that dog owners are significantly less anxious and depressed and, in general, pet owners are 36% less likely to be lonely than their non-pet-owning counterparts .
When you’re sad and need a shoulder to cry on, your pet can comfort you like no one else. Sara Eckel, in her book, It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, writes that although many single people have close friends in their support network,
“We had each other of course, but not in the perfectly synced way our television counterparts did. We didn’t live in the same apartment building and pop in unannounced to make grilled-cheese sandwiches or coach each other for job interviews. We weren’t always available for emergency brunches or last minute trips to Jamaica. Instead, we had complicated, independent lives wending down many different paths, that sometimes had us working 16-hour days, or moving out of state, or navigating a fledgling romance. We saw each other the way most urban professionals do — by booking dates days or weeks in advance. That meant that we were frequently alone, with time.”
Unless you have a companion animal, that is. A 2012 study in Animal Cognition showed that dogs not only responded more attentively to humans when they were crying, as compared to either talking or humming, but also that they more often approached a stranger (rather than their owner) when the stranger pretended to cry. The dogs’ behavior in both cases was submissive — i.e. big eyes, head down, lick tearful face — rather than alert or playful .
If you need more substantial evidence to support the benefits of pet ownership, the American Heart Association released a statement in 2013 giving a Class IIb, level of evidence B, recommendation that pet ownership, and particularly dog ownership, may be reasonable for a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk . The AHA cites multiple studies demonstrating that pet ownership (primarily dog or cat) has a favorable effect on physical activity, lipid profiles, blood pressure, response to stressors, and improved survival after an acute coronary syndrome.
Finally, if you’re single and STILL need a reason to get a pet, a joint survey conducted by Match.com and PetSmart titled “The Truth about Pets and Dating” revealed some interesting statistics. Some highlights include the fact that 66% of men and women would not date someone who didn’t like pets and 72% of women think that a dog is “the hottest pet a guy could own.” Check out the rest of the statistics in this nifty infographic, courtesy of BarkPost:
Need even more reasons to get a pet?
- Black K. The relationship between companion animals and loneliness among rural adolescents. J Pediatr Nurs. 2012; 27(2):103-12.
- Stanley IH, Conwell Y, Bowen C, Van Orden KA. Pet ownership may attenuate loneliness among older adult primary care patients who live alone. Aging Ment Health. 2014;18(3):394-9.
- Custance D, Mayer J. Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs to distress in humans: an exploratory study. Animal Cognition. 2012;15(5):851-859.
- Levine GN, Allen K, Braun LT, et al. Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013; 127(23):2353-63.