Playing fetch with the family dog might have some far reaching benefits.
Megan Mueller, a research assistant professor at Tufts University, is studying the bonds of human-animal relationships.
Dr. Megan Mueller is a research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Dr. Mueller has a Ph.D. in child study and human development from Tufts University. Her research focuses on how relationships with animals can promote healthy children, families and communities through pet ownership, animal-assisted therapy, and animal-based community programs.
Benefits of Pet Ownership
Do you have a pet? Did you have a pet as a child? If you are like 70% of Americans, you probably answered yes to one of those questions.
Furthermore, many people report that they consider their companion animals to be family members.
In fact, research on human-animal relationships has demonstrated that we often turn to our animals in times of emotional distress, as a source of comfort and psychological support. Kids, in particular, lean on their animals as non-judgmental, social companions.
There are over two million children in the United States who are part of a military family.
Military-connected youth experience higher than average rates of frequent residential moves and stress associated with changing schools and peer groups, as well as anxiety about their service member parents. However, many of these youth also have excellent support networks in their families, schools, and communities. Identifying these sources of strength is important in promoting well-being for youth in military families.
In a recent study, we looked at whether having a pet may be one source of resilience for these youth. In fact, we found that for youth with a currently deployed parent, having a strong attachment to a pet was associated with having more adaptive coping skills. In other words, it may be that positive relationships with companion animals may be beneficial, particularly during times of stress, such as coping with the deployment of a parent.
Our scientific understanding of human-animal relationships is constantly evolving, as we develop more nuanced ways of measuring these relationships. As the field expands, we are learning more about the fascinating and complex relationships that humans have with their non-human companions, and how these interactions can affect both human and animal health and well-being.