If you’re male and you own a pet, you may be interested to know that your chances of attracting the opposite sex are thirty percent higher than a male who doesn’t, writes Michael Beatty from RSPCA Qld.

And the news gets better. If you’re male and you actually bought your pet from an animal shelter, then you’re practically assured of never having to spend another lonely night in front of the TV comforted only by beer, pizza and the aforementioned snoring shelter pooch. I can actually vouch for this personally, having owned a three legged shelter pooch called Tripod for fourteen years. I was single then, and thanks to Tripod, very glad to be so….

These romantic incentives for pet owners were discovered as part of a mini-survey that attempted to investigate the “pulling power” of pets. It was good news for pet owners, particularly males. But in reality, surveys about the benefits of pets have been ongoing, and these days science is starting to back up what many previously regarded as animal lovers’ hearsay.

A Baker Medical Research Institute study showed that pet owners had cholesterol levels two per cent lower than those without pets. Not world shattering, but when you consider that this can lower your chances of having a heart attack by four per cent, well worth considering.

Pet owners also had lower levels of triglyceride fats in their blood and lower blood pressure. That doesn’t mean that if you have a pet you can rush out and have four tons of salt on the fish and chips and drink a bottle of scotch, but it is food for thought.

Some of the other findings in recent surveys in the United States and the UK are also worthy of note, although most won’t come as any huge surprise.

People who own dogs tend to exercise more and be more socially interactive. Being a conscientious dog owner means that at the very least you’ll take your dog for a walk once a day and probably twice. This is not only good for your general health, it also increases your chances of having a chat with other conscientious dog owners. Many old people live alone and their daily dog walks not only get them out of the house, they also increase their opportunities to chat with neighbours and other pet owners.

In fact, a study of people walking in a park with and without dogs showed that the people with dogs had longer conversations with more people than those without, and you only have to observe the activity at any dog off-leash area to realise that the people are enjoying their socialising as much as the dogs. For people who are lonely or just live alone this interaction is often vital and can seriously help ward off depression.

However, many elderly people refrain from taking on a pet because they’re worried about their pets’ care if they get sick and have to go to hospital. RSPCA Qld has introduced a program to assist elderly pet owners and/or those coping with poor health. When hospitalisation is required and there is no one to look after the patient’s pets, RSPCA Qld may be able to help through their Pet Legacy program.

Through this program, which has helped hundreds of people across Queensland, elderly folk can enjoy the companionship of animals, in their homes, right until the end. They can have peace of mind knowing that, should an emergency occur, the staff and volunteers from RSPCA Qld will be there to help and to care for their pets.

In the event of the owner’s death, RSPCA Qld will ensure that the pets will go on to have the best possible quality of life with very carefully selected guardians.

Many nursing homes now have live-in pets or animals that visit as part of a pet therapy program. All say that the pets tend to reduce the stress levels and that the patients are much calmer and less inclined to be irritable when the pets are there. Many moons back, my grandmother, who could crack a “wobbly” of gargantuan proportions, was always soothed if I brought along our Airedale Trigger. (Named after Roy Rodgers’ horse, but that’s another story.)

Even fish can have a calming effect. Watching fish swim can actually lower blood pressure and many doctors and dentists now have fish tanks in their waiting rooms. (Mental note: Change dentist and find one with a fish tank.)

But perhaps one of the most interesting studies in Washington found that horse riding for the disabled led to improvements in language, coordination, work skills and self confidence. Parents of autistic children, too, have noted majority improvements in their children’s attention span and coordination after they bought a pet.

In fact, all children can gain enormous benefits from pet ownership. Pets help teach them a sense of responsibility and simple humanity. It’s these very messages that RSPCA Qld’s Educational Mobile Unit (EMU) brings to thousands of school children, teachers and parents every year.

Yes, pets can — and do — make a difference. Good luck at the off-leash area with your shelter pooch, fellas!