It’s time we recognized pets as a public health strategy
Research on children’s health has indicated that growing up with a pet can positively influence its development. Children with pets are more likely to be physically active and social, and learn important life skills while taking care of pets.
Pets also bring us together, reducing loneliness and social isolation. We now know that communities with more pets are more closely linked and connected. Pets help us interact with each other and serve as common ground that can often be lacking in our society.
Unlike other public health strategies, like nutritional guidelines, for example, there is currently no federal effort to promote pet ownership or to support pet owners, who now constitute 70 percent of American households. The evidence for the positive health benefits that pets offer Americans is strong enough that we should elevate engagement with pets as a wellness strategy to the same level as nutrition, exercise. , smoking cessation and other public health priorities.
We are making significant progress. Through bipartisan adoption and funding of the Pet and Women’s Safety Act, or PAWS, Department of Justice subsidies are now helping domestic violence shelters become pets. And with the recent passage of PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, more veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder will have access to the healing power of service dogs.
Beyond these targeted efforts, Congress and federal agencies can help support pet ownership on a broader basis. For example, Congress can adopt the Healthy Dogs Importation Act, which would ensure a reliable source of healthy pets and protect public health. Pet-friendly accommodation policies can also be updated to expand access and help pet owners find and maintain stable housing.