Check out this interview where Dr. Melanie Rock, an anthropologist at the University of Calgary, reveals how pet ownership contributes to human health.
Dr. Rock starts out on familiar ground explaining some of the concrete human health benefits arising from companion animals. For example, simply being exposed to a dog can lower a person’s blood pressure and walking a dog is good exercise. This makes sense to me, my German Shepherd Milo keeps me calm, happy, and on the move.
However, this interview really caught my attention when Dr. Rock started talking about the significance of human-animal relationships. She gave examples ranging from farm animals to pets, from rural settings to cities, and from the Global North to the Global South of how our sense of our own identities and our health, and our sense of belonging in a place are tied to our relationships with animals. This has a significant impact on human well being.
Dr. Rock says,
If it’s true that even in resource poor countries in which food is a daily concern, that people establish effective relationships with pets and relate to a dog as a friend, as a member even of the family in some cases, then those relationships are important to take into account when we are designing and delivering health services and broader population health initiatives. … so far we have not really come to grips with the fact that our society is not purely human.
Melanie [Rock] is an anthropologist and social worker whose research focuses on the societal and cultural dimensions of health, with an emphasis on the importance of nonhuman animals for mental, physical, and social well-being. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Calgary, where she serves as Associate Scientific Director in the O’Brien Institute for Public Health. Her primary appointment is in the Cumming School of Medicine’s Department of Community Health Sciences, and she holds a joint appointment in the Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, she has supervisory privileges in the Department of Anthropology and Archeology, Faculty of Arts and in the Faculty of Social Work. Honorary affiliations include the Institut de recherche en santé publique de l’Université de Montréal and the Human-Animal Research Network (HARN) at the University of Sydney.