Interesting how the government and NHS leaders have been talking a lot recently about the idea of social prescriptions – something other than medicine that will help people improve their health and well-being. For years, I have been arguing that governments of all persuasions and policy makers have not fully understood the link between interaction with companion animals and our health and well-being.
Instinctively, when asked, people will always say how important their pet dog or cat is to the quality of their lives. Indeed, politicians I have spoken to have the same reaction, but then they fail to make this link when they work on national health and welfare strategies.
So, for example, we end up with situations where elderly people sometimes have their ‘best friends’ taken away from them when they go into residential accommodation. Alternatively, they stay isolated in their own home beyond a time it is really safe for them to do so, because no-one will take their pet dog or cat.
In the first year of its operation, the excellent free Silverline phone service, aimed at elderly people, identified that 54% of callers said hey had no-one else to talk to. Loneliness on this scale is shocking and unnecessary. Dogs could make a difference.
There are some other big national health issues we need to tackle – obesity, decline in well-being as a result of social isolation, rises in diabetes and dementia, just to name a few. Regular interaction with a dog could help in all these situations. Dogs give us a reason to take regular exercise and make it make it easier – walking alone never feels quite the same. When walking a dog, people inevitably end up talking to other people and this can help to bring a local community together. Likewise, dog clubs offer the opportunity for communities to come together around a shared interest and encourage exercise.
Every month I receive invitations to go to conferences about health and well-being. I have yet to see a conference agenda include a speaker talking about the role companion animals can play in our daily well-being. I have taken to sending an email to these conference organisers suggesting they are missing a trick. Maybe you would like to join me!
Social prescriptions are a great idea and we hope to start working with some GP’s and health providers . We know that dogs are good for us, so let’s take that to the logical conclusion and embrace the concept of dogs having a role to play in the future of social prescriptions.