Pet Histories and Wellbeing is an AHRC-funded project to develop research on the history of pets and wellbeing in the context of contemporary debates with the Museum of the Home and the charity Blue Cross. The research comes from Jane Hamlett and Julie-Marie Strange’s AHRC funded Pets and Family Life Project , that ran 2016-2019 and explored the role of pets in family life from the Victorian period to the mid twentieth century. The project brings the three partners together to produce an immersive environment installation at the Museum, a film and a series of public engagement activities that will run in summer 2021.
Pets are an important part of Britain’s society, culture and economy. In 2019 a UK Gov and PDSA report estimated that 50% of UK adults owned a pet. Pets are part of family life, but they are also an important part of the British economy. In 2019, the store Pets at Home reported half-year pre-tax profits of £45 million. Meanwhile, mental health awareness is unprecedented both in terms of people accessing services and public dialogue. It is estimated that approximately one in four people in the UK will suffer a mental health problem each year and that mental health problems are the largest single cause of disability in the UK. Recent research has demonstrated a strong link between pet animals and human wellbeing. A 2019 Blue Cross Report found that pets can help people with mental health conditions by offering love and company, increased social interaction, motivation, exercise and distraction. During the COVID period many people spent more time with their pets and relied on their companionship during lockdown, increasing their role in human wellbeing.
The capacity of pets to forge strong emotional attachments with their guardians is a major theme of the Pets and Family Life Project – while species popularity, pet keeping practices and cultural framing changed over time, there was significant long-term continuity in emotional investment in animals. The historical research strongly supports the contention that pets can make a significant contribution to individual wellbeing. Historical interpretation and archival materials will be developed to provide the creative basis for a series of activities and outputs including: a film exploring the relationship between pets people with mental health conditions in the past and present; an immersive environment recreating the presence of animals in the home; a debate forum exploring the wellbeing of both owners and pets in contemporary and historic perspectives; and a programme of public engagement . The historians will also work with the museum on raising the profile of animals in the permanent collections.