The Pet Factor – Foreword

Mikhail Fridman

Mikhail Fridman is an international businessman and co-founder of LetterOne, the international investment business, headquartered in Luxembourg, with offices in London and New York.

Welcome to the fourth volume of our Global Perspectives series, in which we explore some of the world’s most important social and economic trends through the eyes of leading commentators. In this journal we examine the world of pets and their significant impact on the health and wellbeing of humans as well as our economy.

I write this as some parts of the world re-emerge from lockdown, while others face new highs in the number of those diagnosed with COVID-19. As we fight for survival and our healthcare systems are put under increased pressure, why then should we be focused on pets?

In a short space of time, lockdown has forced us to reduce our social and physical contact with other humans. At the same time, during this period our relationships with our animals have flourished. According to our research undertaken by Ipsos MORI, in the UK, a staggering 41% of pet owners said they bought a pet during lockdown.

The sense of companionship, responsibility and emotional support they provide has been vital to many during the pandemic. For example, 37% of Brits who were forced to work from home more during the height of the pandemic say that they now have a closer relationship with their pets than before. For all the advances made in our digital world, there is little that can replace our ability to interact and communicate with animals. What is clear is that to many these seemingly intangible benefits more than outweigh the price we pay for them. Germany alone spends €17.6 billion each year on its pets.

Our research into this topic shows that, for the majority of people, pets are indeed more than just an economic cost. The Ipsos MORI research confirms this, with 80% of Brits agreeing that their dog keeps them physically active, and 40% of dog owners saying that they intend to take their dogs for longer and more frequent walks as restrictions ease. Our meta-analysis shows that pet owners are more active and healthier than non-pet owners, but the question of why this might be is a complex one to answer.

To find out, we turned to some leading scientists in this field to provide an overview of the social- scientific consensus on the potential human health benefits of pets, during lockdown and more generally across nations and continents, such as, dogs as a motivator of physical activity and the roles played by pets during COVID-19 times. Our contributors also unpack some of the less easily measured benefits of this bond. We look at how a dog can make people feel less lonely or isolated; we consider soldiers in the British Army who develop long-lasting emotional bonds with the horses in their care; and we explore the intense and often complex bond between pets and those experiencing homelessness though a veterinary charity, StreetVet.

My hope is that this journal will be part of a wider movement that I have been championing for many years, to move beyond the reductionist account of economic value that exists presently. At LetterOne, we believe that society’s progress is best understood when all forms of wealth are considered, fully accounting for natural, social and human capital alongside our financial assets. Rethinking how economies work has never felt more pertinent as the world recoils from a pandemic. And as this journal shows, our pets are playing a vital role in our ability to heal society but may indirectly be contributing a lot more to the health of our nations than many might expect. We call it The Pet Factor.