Animals are powerful catalysts for positive social interaction across many different contexts, and have the ability to create connections that transcend racial, cultural, physical and socioeconomic differences. The benefits of this social facilitation extend beyond pet owners to the wider community, promoting a sense of neighborhood cohesion and higher levels of social capital, which includes factors like trust, reciprocity, and civic engagement, and perceived neighborhood friendliness83.
Dog owners who walked their dogs reported greater feelings of safety when out in the community, and simply seeing people out walking dogs can enhance the perception of a neighborhood’s safety. Dog owners also report heightened feelings of safety when at home due to the dog’s presence83.
Social capital is a term that refers to the notion that people derive benefits from interacting with each other and from our social networks and the sense of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arises from these connections among people. Social capital has been linked to mental health, morality, child development, crime and safety and economic resilience, so higher social capital is likely to have important long-term effects. A large scale, multi-country study on the topic of social capital revealed that pet owners compared to non-owners experience higher social capital115. Dog owners who walked their dogs also experienced higher social capital than those who did not walk their dogs. This study is important because it provides empirical evidence supporting the notion that pet ownership may facilitate social capital.