A little while ago, my friend Emma rang me up and hit me with a surprise question: “Do you want a dog?” she asked.

Actually, it wasn’t a total surprise because we’d lost the family labrador a few months back and we were more or less in the market for a replacement. But even so, I couldn’t stop a stream of negative thoughts about vet bills, freezing early morning walks, hair loss (not just the dog), the rapid demise of lawn and garden, no more holidays and, of course, poo.

So naturally I said yes. And I don’t regret it for one second. No matter how rough my day’s been, everything gets better the moment I see George’s eager, happy face. (He used to be called Kaka, by the way, but that was never going to last.)

We all know dogs are called ‘man’s best friend^1 because they’re very good company, especially for people who live alone. While dogs get the ‘best friend’ tag, any pet can be a good companion—fish and birds included. They make us feel wanted and needed. We talk to them, particularly when we’re sad or stressed. We confide in them. They give us feelings of trust and security that can sometimes be hard to find elsewhere.

Pets are good for our health. Dogs in particular encourage us to lift our activity levels. They help us (should that be force us?) to go outdoors and get regular exercise. They’re great motivators and personal trainers for the simple reason that they never want to miss a training session… no matter the weather.

Pets (admittedly, mainly dogs) give us a daily routine of nurturing and caring, and the responsibility that comes with pet ownership helps build self-esteem and self-confidence. Even those pesky pet-related chores can be beneficial. Feeding at set times, walks, brushings, playtimes and backyard pick-ups all provide a sense of purpose during the day, and a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

People who own pets report less depression and they appear to cope with grief, stress and loss better than non-pet owners. And numerous studies have shown that pets can permanently lift the atmosphere of hospices and nursing homes.

Pets can also be useful. George, for example, actually brings me my slippers. I don’t think he’s worried about my cold feet, he just wants to play tug o’ war but either way, I get my slippers. We’re working on the Sunday paper. (George is another labrador, which means he’s pretty easy to train because his sole purpose in life is the pursuit of food. For a liver treat or two, he’d probably have a bash at driving the car.)

Dogs are also useful because they’re great conversation starters down the local park, they make us feel safer when we’re home alone, and they keep an eye on the house when we’re out.

The joy of having a pet isn’t new to most Australians. We have one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. But if you’re not sure if a pet would fit in with your lifestyle, you can ‘try before you buy’ by contacting your local vet, animal rescue or RSPCA and inquiring about short-term foster care. This will give you the experience of having a pet and also provide a much-needed community service.

Who knows… you may end up providing that loving home so many animals are desperately seeking.

Stephen Scholfield

  1. The term ‘man’s best friend’ has long been accepted a generic description of the relationship that exists between humans and dogs. It does not refer exclusively to men, nor does it suggest that dogs cannot be woman’s best friend too.