Research by psychologists at Miami University and St. Louis University indicates pet ownership is good for the average person's health as well as happiness.
"Although there is correlational evidence that pets may help individuals facing significant life stressors, little is known about the well-being benefits of patterns for everyday people," they wrote in a paper, "Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership," published online by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The psychologists surveyed 217 people on such variables as depression, loneliness, self-esteem, activity level and intra-personal relations with other people to determine whether there was any difference between the responses of pet owners and people who do not have pets in their lives.
Their finding: pet owners tend to be less lonely, have more self-esteem, get more exercise, are more extroverted and were less fearful about closeness to other people.
And apparently the type of pet doesn't matter much.
Belongingness is a central need said the group led by Allen R. McConnell at Miami University.
The second part of the study -- which surveyed 56 dog owners -- found dog owners tended to benefit most when their canines "complemented rather than competed" with people in their lives.
The research indicated well-balanced dogs that were less aggressive, less fearful and more active toward other people, and animals were best for their owners needs.
In the third part of the study, 97 college students were asked to write about a difficult time when they were socially excluded or rejected and then write about a favorite pet. The psychologists concluded writing about pets was as effective in minimizing feelings of rejection as writing about a friend.
"In summary, pets a serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners," the researchers said.
While 62 percent of U.S. households have a pet, pet ownership obviously isn't for everyone and people unable to care for a pet or who suffer from severe allergies may have to forgo animal companionship.
According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly three-in-10 pet owners who smoked said they would attempt to quit it if was proven second-hand smoke harmed their pets. Fewer than 2 percent said they would quit to keep cigarette smoke away from their children.
A new leaf for Vick?
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday in support of a bill that would outlaw attendance at animal fights.
Vick, who served 23-months in prison beginning in 2007 on federal dog fighting charges, backs the proposed legislation (H.R. 2492) championed by the Humane Society of the United States.
"If you take away the profits, you can eliminate dog fighting," Vick told a House judiciary subcommittee. "During my time in prison I told myself that I wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem."
Since his release, Vick has revived his NFL career and appears before many groups at schools and in inner city communities warning youth not to get involved in animal fighting. Vick recently signed a long-term sponsorship deal with Nike.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., a co-sponsor of the bill with Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio., called Vick a leader in the fight against animal cruelty, Politico reported.
'There's good in every pet'
The city council in Springfield, Ore., last week amended the city's animal ordinance to allow one pot-bellied pig as a pet per home.
The ordinance covers the miniature kind, like the Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs known for their sociability and intelligence that weigh less than 95 pounds -- but not everyone is a fan.
"I've got my own personal feelings about pot-bellied pigs being housed next to me," Police Chief Jerry Smith told KEZI-TV, Springfield, Ore. "I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it."
Smith says pot-bellied pig owners will have to keep their pets from larding up.
"If these animal owners feed their pigs they'll grow clear up to 200 pounds, so the owners are going to have to be responsible," he said.
The pot-bellied pig pets will have to be micro-chipped and licensed by the city.
Speaking of fat cats …
Eddie, a 15-pound cat on New York's upper West Side, used up one of his nine lives earlier this month when he was carried off by a red-tailed hawk.
The New York Daily News says the big kitty was dropped by the four-pound hawk into the backyard of a nearby apartment building, falling about 100 feet.
"He checked out fine, other than some minor cuts, scrapes and bruises," Eddie's owner told the newspaper.
Wacky pet names
If your dog is named "Max" or "Bella," they 're part of the pack with the most popular pet names in the country, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. reports.
VPI, the oldest and largest U.S. pet insurance provider, also collected the most unusual dog and cat names.
"Almost-A-Dog," led the Top 5 for dogs followed by "Franco Furter," "Stinkie Mcstinkerson," "Sir Seamus McPoop" and "Audrey Shepburn."
For cats, the most unusual names were "Ozzy Pawsborne," "Mr Meowgi," "Murderface," "Fuglee" and "Scruffemutter."
The complete lists of unusual pet names are available at www.wackypetnames.com