Medium 9781786391728

Companion Animal Economics: The Economic Impact of Companion Animals in the UK

By: Hall, S.
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Succinct, highly readable and thought provoking, this important new text is designed to raise awareness of the potential economic impact of companion animals in the UK. It discusses the potential benefits and costs of companion animals to the economy and highlights the need for this matter to be thoroughly researched, given the potential scale of impact and the potential costs of ignoring this matter. Inspired by the seminal Council for Science and Society (CSS) Report, Companion Animals in Society (1988), this work updates and extends its evaluation of the economic impact of companion animals on society and lays a benchmark for future development. This pivotal new book is important for policy makers at national and international levels and all those involved in animal welfare.

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1. Introduction

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Introduction

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The UK is renowned as being a nation of animal lovers, with an estimated

12 million (46%) households incorporating about 65 million companion animals into their families (PFMA, 2015). With close proximity comes an opportunity to impact on each other’s health and well-being. More broadly, it reflects a societal impact. The scale of this phenomenon raises the need for insight into the extent to which we share our lives with companion animals, and the nature of the human–animal relationship in these contexts. Indeed, human society is inherently multispecies (Mills & De Keuster, 2009).

In this report we wish to highlight the economic significance especially of the companionship of animals and use the term ‘companion animal’ to refer to those animals (e.g. dogs and cats) that keep us company in a range of contexts. This recognizes the animal’s family member status in

Western traditions as well as acknowledging its individuality, and the compatibility of bonds within the relationship. It could be argued that domestic equids fall into this category, but these are beyond the scope of this report.

 

2. Methodology

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Methodology

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This preliminary study was a desk-based research exercise, inspired by the seminal Council for Science and Society (CSS) report Companion Animals in Society (1988), which was the starting point for the investigation.

The CSS report (1988) attempted to produce a comprehensive evaluation of the significance of companion animals in the UK, providing a benchmark for discussing their economic impact within our society. At the time, the report was seemingly presented as the only report to attempt such an evaluation, with no updates since 1988.

Content analysis and deconstruction of the CSS report was undertaken to elicit core concepts, repeating themes and underpinning assumptions.

Specific attention was placed on economic data and figures relating to companion animals and society. Data and figures presented in the original report were extracted and tabulated, with the original assumption and/or references for such figures also noted. Through collection of such data, an attempt was made to source more recent figures giving a revised overview of the economic impact of companion animals.

 

3. Key Features of the Council for Science and Society (CSS) Report 1988

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Key Features of the Council for

Science and Society (CSS) Report

1988

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To put the current work in context, it is useful to review the scope and findings of the 1988 Council for Science and Society (CSS) report on animals in society, before considering the ways in which the figures may be updated, associated challenges and how the position of companion animals in society has developed (see later chapters). This was the first comprehensive evaluation of its kind to specifically consider companion animals in the UK. This report reflected on the extent and economic significance of the companion animal in society, as well as the benefits and problems that they bring.

The three main domains identified in the report were:

1. The extent and economic significance of the pet-keeping phenomenon.

2. The benefits of pet ownership.

3. The associated problems of pet ownership.

As we have noted already, the CSS report highlights the difficulty in distinguishing between the ‘pet’ and ‘working’ animal within some human– animal relationships. We retain the use of the term ‘pet’ in this chapter, in line with the original report.

 

4. Updates on the Economic Impact of Companion Animals to the UK

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Updates on the Economic Impact of Companion Animals to the UK

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Within the current report we make a number of references to the health benefits that companion animals may bring, and the associated potential economic savings related to this. However, it should also be documented that the scientific integrity on which these conclusions are based often fall below the traditional ‘gold-standard’ double-blind randomized control trial procedures. In general, human–animal interactions research is often criticized for using small sample sizes, a lack of random assignment to pet and no pet conditions, a lack of understanding or consideration of the causal relationship between health and pet ownership and the use of subjective, as opposed to objective, measures of assessment (O’Haire, 2010;

Herzog, 2011). Nonetheless, even the authors who note these criticisms do not deny the potential for companion animals to benefit human health, and call for greater investment in research in this area. What does seem to be important is that researchers are encouraged to publish, and publicize, null-results relating to the impact of companion animals to health, as well as studies that report positive effects. Indeed, it is important that results are not ‘cherry-picked’ in favour of positive effects of companion animals in media reports and review articles.

 

5. Indirect Costs: Extending the Scope of Economic Value

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Indirect Costs: Extending the

Scope of Economic Value

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The previous chapter considered direct economic costs, however, there is growing recognition that companion animals also provide many significant indirect financial benefits (still referred to as costs in economic terms). In this chapter, two areas are chosen to illustrate the significance of indirect costs associated with companion animals: (i) the effect of companion animal ownership on human health (considering examples relating to the physical, mental and social health of people) and its economic implications; and

(ii) the additional health benefits of economic value provided by animalassisted interventions and the wider support of individuals with increased need in our society. Other pet-assisted activities are likely to provide indirect economic benefits (e.g. Pets as Therapy (PAT) dogs, the Kennel Club’s Bark and Read programme) but no evaluative data could be sourced.

5A Human Health and Well-being

 

6. Conclusion: Illustrating the Perceived Economic Impact of Companion Animals

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Conclusion: Illustrating the

Perceived Economic Impact of Companion Animals

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There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that companion animals have a significant economic impact on the UK economy; however, the scale of this remains uncertain in terms of both the range of mechanisms involved and the monetary value of these. This report has sought to highlight both of these matters with a view to increasing awareness of these issues and the need for further research in this area. We do not believe it is acceptable to simply dismiss the lack of high-quality evidence as demonstrating a lack of effect or importance of this topic. As mentioned earlier, from an economic perspective it is important to consider the cost of failing to act versus acting on what is suggested by the literature. In our opinion, at a time of fiscal constraints, there is a greater need to explore the potential saving that could be made through low-cost interventions such as the greater exploitation of the value of companion animals in society, and the cost of any legislation that potentially limits this should be appreciated.

 

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