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Already, the industry is promoting the benefits of pets for older people. The pet association is a founding sponsor (along with Petco and Pfizer Animal Health) of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the positive role animals play in people's health.
The group's website touts the role animals have in lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety.
The pets-have-a-benefit message applies to people of all ages, but the argument might strike a deep chord with older people.
"For us, they bring a really a tremendous amount of joy, you know, because after your kids are gone your house is kind of empty and they're just a lot of fun, good company," said 70-year-old Phyllis Singler, of Philadelphia. She and her 61-year-old husband lead an active retirement with boating and trips to Florida and Europe.
The couple owns two biewers, Natty and Gio, that go almost everywhere they do. And when they can't, they hire a sitter. There's a provision in their will to set aside money so their children can care for the dogs, if need be.
Some researchers caution that the good of pet ownership has to be weighed against the bad. Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, said there are so many studies on the "pet effect" with conflicting results that it remains an "uncorroborated hypothesis." Herzog, author of "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat" noted, for instance, that the Centers for Disease Control estimated there are almost 87,000 falling injuries each year related to cats and dogs.
"The pet industry has really pushed the idea that pets are good for people and they've ignored the substantial literature showing there's no effect or there's a deleterious effect," Herzog said.
Herzog said pets can have a positive affect -- he thinks his cat has a positive effect on him -- but that the health benefits have been oversold.
Vetere said claims that pets are some awful tripping hazard or otherwise harmful are "greatly exaggerated."
"I don't see that as being even close to a trade-off," he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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