Dr Liz Walker, the CEO of Lort Smith Animal Hospital said in an article in The Age on February 17 that companion animals are “the lifeline to happiness for many people”, and that Australia needs to become much more accommodating to people with pets.
Dr Walker stated that; “Companion animals bring unconditional love into people’s lives. They are there to protect you and to love you, and to just be companions. And this is not just animal lovers who believe this; the research always supports it, that it is the lifeline to happiness.”
She listed the benefits of having a pet to include:
• Less physical illness and fewer visits to the doctor;
• Better fitness – think of all those hours walking the dog;
• Lower incidence of heart attack and stroke;
• Providing a sense of purpose, particularly to those feeling flat;
• Better emotional development for children;
• An almost effortless way to meet people;
• Reduced incidence of childhood allergies;
• Enhanced ability to deal with grief and loss;
• Being more likely to know your neighbours, and being generally less lonely;
• Lower rates of depression and less frequent admission to hospital for those with mental illness.
Dr Walker says companion animals pose no significant health risks, that it is easy to accommodate pets in almost all housing situations, and that residential care facilities and emergency shelters for the homeless and for women and children fleeing violence from men should welcome animals.
She says if people cannot have their pets looked after while they are in hospital or before they leave a violent relationship, they will put up with the abuse for much longer.
“They need to sort out their pets first, or they will live hard on the streets before they give up their pets.”
Walker says restrictions on where people can own and take pets in Australia are unduly harsh in comparison with those in Europe and the US, where many pets live in apartments.
Although the article focussed on pets and housing, Dr Walker reiterated that pet ownership was extremely significant factor in the health and wellbeing of many people, and that those people will fight hard to care for their animals.
The community needs to recognise the contribution made by our companion animals, as do those who impose rigid restrictions.
Dr Walker advised that; “Life is better with pets. There are mental and physical health benefits, as well as the social glue that is evident in parks and on beaches and in the streets. As dog and cat owners in particular will lovingly attest, the bond between humans and animals can be profound.”
Perhaps our councillors could consider Dr Walker’s comments. They might begin to appreciate the benefits for the community of relaxed and reasonable access to our “public” beaches for companion animals. Currently every indication is that the councillors in place for the next four years will make life as difficult as possible for dogs and owners alike, regardless of age or circumstance.
Judging from the rifts and stresses already very apparent in the community over this issue, the fallout in relation to health and wellbeing is already significant.
K Chugg, Inverloch