Like spouses and close friends, pets can become "included in the self," the core of our being that forms our perspective. McConnell says "they become as much a part of the self as many family members." His conclusion? Pets are often "friends with benefits" and our health and happiness improve in meaningful ways from pet ownership.
But the benefits of pets go beyond the everyday. "Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression," said Ian Cook, psychiatrist and director of UCLA's Depression Research and Clinic Program. For those suffering from depression, pet ownership can be an invaluable source of healing.
The role of animals, and especially dogs, as roving ambassadors of goodwill can be seen most clearly in their role as therapy dogs. After the tragic massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, therapy dogs from all over the country were brought in to help the community, and especially the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Six months later Newtown held a "Day of Thanks" to show its gratitude. The gathering was attended by 50 dogs (and many more owners and residents). One parent explained that her daughter had had a rough time after the shooting. "But when she talked about the dogs that she saw every day at school, she lit up."