No matter where you are, the four words “in these uncertain times” seem to precede every commercial, every newscast and every other piece of media across the globe. True enough, in this brave new world of COVID-19, anxiety and fear seem to be the marching orders of the day. Finding ways to safely destress and maintain mental health becomes a major priority when all the world seems to be falling apart.
We, of course, know that one of the best sources of mental wellness comes directly from pet ownership. Numerous studies have shown that pet ownership and interactions with pets have direct, tangible benefits on a person’s health. But, spreading the word of these benefits has become the watchwords for the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI).
Founded in 2010 by leaders throughout the pet industry, HABRI works to advance “…through science, education and advocacy, the vital role of the human-animal bond in the health and well-being of individuals, communities, and companion animals.”
In doing so, the organization maintains the world’s largest online library of human-animal bond research, it funds scientific research to document the health benefits of companion animals, and it serves as a liaison to the public for that research.
HABRI’s advocacy takes shape in numerous forms, starting with research. To date, HABRI has funded over $3M across 30-plus scientific research projects, demonstrating the health value of companion animals and pets on their owners. Its research partners have included University of Missouri, Tufts University, University of Georgia, and several other major research institutions. In May 2018, HABRI partnered with Mars Petcare to hold a summit on the role of pets in alleviating loneliness, social isolation and other mental ailments; a partnership which continues through this day.
The results of these HABRI-funded research studies have benefitted nearly every walk of life: pets have been shown to improve reading comprehension, reduce classroom disruptions and increase social skill acquisition for third and fourth grade children, have shown improved family function and reduced stress in homes with autistic children, have shown to reduce PTSD symptoms in veterans, and so much more.
HABRI’s research partnerships continue to be in the vanguard, showing the benefits of pet ownership and in animal-companionship on the whole. Other research under HABRI’s purview has included pet allergy prevention and immunity research, studies into the benefits of companion animals within the workplace, and the correlation between cardiovascular fitness to dog ownership.
Further, HABRI’s research has even resulted in changes at the legislative level. The Pet and Women Safety Act, which passed in December 2018, now provides grants to domestic violence shelters to include service animals to aid in rehabilitating victims of domestic violence. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of those in the pet care community, these animals can now help countless individuals across the country.
This comes in conjunction with HABRI’s Pet Night on Capitol Hill, a yearly reception in Washington, DC, that provides members of the pet care community to interact with members of Congress, soundly delivering the message that pets are vital for human health and quality of life. While COVID-19 has prevented an in-person Pet Night this year, HABRI was able to shift to Pet Week on Capitol Hill, which featured a full week of programming between legislators and pet care professionals.
And now, in a world that continually faces social isolation and loneliness due to COVID-19-based restrictions, the role of companion animals on our mental health becomes magnified to a powerful degree. HABRI has responded to this need by sharing numerous infographics—available on their website—demonstrating the benefits of pet ownership on longevity, mental health, and more. In addition, HABRI maintains an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, sharing up-to-the-minute information on research initiatives, events within the pet care community, and other content that can easily be shared with all those interested in the bond between pets and their owners. Many thanks to Steve Feldman and Lindsey Melfi for contributing valuable content for this article. For those interested in supporting HABRI, viewing the organization’s research or downloading HABRI posters, flyers or infographics, visit habri.org.