Don’t forget about your pets during the holidays

In recent years, it has been reported that more than 60% of South African households own at least one pet. Picture: Enver Essop/File

In recent years, it has been reported that more than 60% of South African households own at least one pet. Picture: Enver Essop/File

Published Dec 24, 2023


By Tswelopele Makoe

THE festive season brings forth an atmosphere of celebratory cheer, fantastical decorations, and family spirit. Although this time of the year is marked by hearty meals and overall vibrant traditions, it is sadly a miserable time indeed for a plethora of domestic animals across the nation.

In recent years, it has been reported that more than 60% of South African households own at least one pet. According to an article by Budget Pet Supplies, recent data shows a steady increase in the number of households with pets, particularly since the onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Currently, South Africa is home to about 9.2 million pets, 7.4 million of these being dogs.

Pets have been part of human society dating back as far as 30 000 years ago. Research conducted by the African Journal of Science shows that pet ownership is both physically and emotionally beneficial.

Physical activity is one of the key aspects promoted by dog ownership. Additionally, pet ownership entails an aspect of responsibility and purpose.

Studies have also shown that pets offer unconditional love and emotional support, thus considerably reducing feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Furthermore, interactions with pets have been linked to improvements in mental health and stress levels.

Pets can also play a crucial role in the daily lives of people, particularly those who are differently abled or elderly.

For example, seeing-eye dogs, dogs that are trained to detect seizures, animals that are used in occupational therapy, speech therapy, or physical rehabilitation are key to recovery and overall well-being.

Pets also significantly improve social interactions and social support. This is particularly effective amongst children who experience anxiety.

For children with no siblings, pet ownership showed an increase in self-esteem, empathy, and an overall increase in participation in activities.

Plenty of studies have been conducted on the long-term benefits of pet ownership, beyond immediate emotional gratification.

According to the National Centre for Health Research, a 2002 research study showed that pet owners had a lower resting heart rate, and a similar study found that having your dog in the room lowered blood pressure better than taking a popular type of blood pressure medication when you are under stress.

Although pet ownership carries benefits, it is also important to consider the challenges of keeping a pet: the financial commitment, time, and care.

A pet can, at times, be as demanding as a human child. From ensuring your pet has the right food, is properly groomed, has access to vaccinations and medications, the financial aspect of pet ownership is often gruelling.

The festive season is notably an unfavourable time for pets across the nation. As families disperse to be with their loved ones, pets are often overlooked or left destitute.

According to Faustina Gardner, managing director of the Domestic Animal Rescue Group (Darg), “pets are abandoned far more frequently during the holiday season”. In fact, animal shelters and welfare groups have warned of an increase in pets being abandoned or returned to shelters.

Although the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is one of the most recognisable animal welfare organisations across the nation, there is an abundance of pet welfare organisations that work to promote animal rights and mitigate animal cruelty.

Supporting these organisations is crucial to reducing animal cruelty in our society.

This may be by way of donations, by signing petitions, by publicly advocating for pet safety through social media platforms, and aiding animal rescue by adopting rescued pets from these organisations. Information, as well as upholding these practices, is important to ensuring pet safety across the nation.

It is often the public that help by connecting lost or abandoned pets with these organisations or reporting or highlighting animal cruelty and exploitation.

Pets in our society are not merely a luxury to be possessed; they are an integral part of the food chain and overall ecosystem. In fact, dogs are further up in the food chain than human beings.

Pets are critical to helping plants reproduce by carrying pollen and seeds from plant to plant. Pets are also known for removing sick or diseased creatures from the environment.

Public awareness about pets is vital for promoting responsible pet ownership, mitigating animal cruelty and exploitation, and more importantly, creating a harmonious relationship between humans and animals.

Pets are an integral part of our society, and their presence only proliferates over time. Domestic animals are often characterised as unintelligent, and as such are subject to various types of abuse.

It is fitting that we as a society respect the role of pets and recognise their benefit in our lives. It is vital that pet owners do not sideline their furry friends, particularly as the busy festive season peaks this coming week of Christmas.

Many pets will be distressed by fireworks, loud gatherings, home and car alarms, police sirens, and bad weather.

Whether one is a pet owner or not, it is one’s responsibility to make a conscious effort to protect and promote animal safety in our society. As holocaust survivor Dr Alex Hershaft rightfully expressed: “The oppression of animals is the gateway drug to oppressing humans.”

* Makoe is a gender activist. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.