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Westminster Column - Owning a pet is good for your health

Pope Francis recently expressed concern that couples are substituting pets for children and in a recent article a journalist argued that splitting up with her boyfriend was nothing like so painful as getting used to the ‘shared custody’ of their beloved hound.

Many of us in the Royal Town are deeply attached to our pet animals. We devoted pet owners meet each other in Royal Sutton’s park and discuss their unconditional friendship and loyalty which make them such wonderful companions. For many of us the stresses of the day can disappear as soon as we walk through the front door and, in my case am met by my beloved Springer Spaniel, Scarlet; who always shows such attention and affection.

I know many people wonder whether the level of commitment and obligation in owning a pet is worthwhile. But in my view the benefits are immense. Daily walks with your best friend are a great low-impact exercise and caring for any pet helps children develop empathy and a sense of responsibility. The advantages to psychological well-being are incalculable, from depression to supporting dementia care and lowering cholesterol.

Pets also play a huge role in the lives of those who live alone and especially for the elderly. Their dependency on you to provide food, exercise and care helps give focus and purpose. I am aware that there are schemes whereby you can ‘borrow’ someone’s dog to walk if you are unable to accommodate a pet of your own.

However, while I cannot recommend too highly the immense benefit of having a pet, with ownership comes a great deal of responsibility. A series of recent high-profile cases of animal cruelty have – quite rightly – resulted in numerous emails and letters to me from my constituents in the Royal Town about the lenient sentencing for animal cruelty. I welcome the Government’s clear intention to revisit the existing criminal sanctions to ensure that appalling behaviour in this area is dealt with through proper legal sanction.

That said Britain is renowned as a nation of dog lovers and pet owners. Fortunately we have one of the best records for animal welfare anywhere in the world.

In the Royal Town Scarlet quite often receives personal invitations to accompany me to engagements - on one occasion being invited to open a new shop selling especially nutritional dog food! I am sure that there may be occasions when her presence is valued more highly than mine!

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