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International conference explores the role for pets

New research reveals that interaction with pets can positively influence classroom behaviour among boisterous and uncooperative children. Additionally, portrayals of animals on television can be a source of education and influence a child's realisation of their own thoughts, beliefs and desires.

These findings are among the new scientific research and practical examples exploring the influence of pets on children to be presented on Saturday 5 October at an international one day conference in London. Hosted by the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS), the conference includes presentations from the UK, Brazil, Netherlands and Austria.

While the positive influence that pets can have on our physical and mental well-being has been well documented, the specific influence of pets on children is a new area receiving scientific attention. Research to be announced at the conference includes:

n Social integration: dogs in an elementary school made restless and boisterous children more quiet and the withdrawn more active

Co-operative behaviour: research examined the psychological effects of animal assisted classroom activities, whereby animals help with the functioning of groups of children

Influence of media: the extent to which television programmes and films about pets can serve as sources of learning within the school context is explored and the efficacy of animal welfare programmes considered

Can animals think?: an exploration of children's acquisition of theory of mind in humans and animals - do portrayals of animals on television as thinkers and planners make children believe animals have complex mental abilities?

Liz Ormerod, Chair of SCAS, said: "Children tend to form very special attachments to companion animals and this can have a very positive effect on their development.

Companion animals can serve many roles including playmate and confidante. For some, they can represent a 'surrogate sibling'.

Through learning to care for and understand animals, children develop greater empathy for other people, and the nurturing skills that are the basis of successful parenting. Pet ownership, however, requires careful planning and the selection of an appropriate animal - parents should consult their veterinary practice for advice."