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Pets in the PRS – a pawsome combination? 

I have recently been lucky enough to become the owner of this gorgeous furball – Obi, a two and a half year old Jack Russell Terrier, who joined us from the Dogs Trust about a month ago.

I have loved dogs (well, all animals really, but dogs especially!) for as long as I can remember, but being a tenant in the private rented sector, I never thought I would be lucky enough to own one of my own – because adverts for properties almost exclusively include the line “no pets”. I volunteered as a dog walker with Cardiff Dogs Home for a number of years, and longed to take one of them home, but presumed it would never happen.

Earlier this year, I decided to write to my landlord and ask for permission to have a dog – I wasn’t particularly optimistic, but was thinking of the old “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” adage. To my great surprise and joy, he agreed – on the condition that we extended our tenancy for another year, and agreed to new terms included paying for a professional clean of carpets and soft furnishings on leaving. We were over the moon, and went immediately to the Dogs Trust to begin the adoption process.

Having Obi has had a hugely positive impact on mine and my partner’s lives, and our mental health. During a recent difficult period following a bereavement, having a little dog that loves you and will curl up on your lap whilst you’re feeling awful has helped enormously. Having him has meant that we have to get out of the house and go for a walk at least twice a day, no matter how bad we’re feeling, which has been a great positive factor for our wellbeing. Even during really dark days, it keeps you going, knowing that this little animal is relying on you for food and exercise, and he returns your attention in spades.

The Mental Health Foundation states that ‘The companionship that a pet offers is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress’. In 2011, they conducted a survey with Cats Protection which involved over 600 cat- and non-cat-owning respondents, with half of them describing themselves as currently having a mental health problem. The survey found that 87% of people who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76% said they could cope with everyday life much better thanks to the company of their feline friends. (Source: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/pets-and-mental-health

More recently, a 2018 study published in BMC Psychiatry (conducted by researchers from the universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Southampton) highlighted the ‘intensiveness’ of connectivity people with companion animals reported, and the many ways in which pets contributed to the work associated with managing a mental health condition, particularly in times of crisis.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Helen Brooks, said: ‘Our review suggests that pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions. Further research is required to test the nature and extent of this relationship, incorporating outcomes that cover the range of roles and types of support pets confer in relation to mental health and the means by which these can be incorporated into the mainstay of support for people experiencing a mental health problem.’ (Source: https://health.spectator.co.uk/pets-improve-your-mental-health-new-study-suggests/

Whilst the evidence seems to be clear on the benefits that pets can have to positive mental health, it can be another matter to convince your landlord to allow you to keep a pet in your home. Many have concerns about pets causing additional and costly damage to their property, from chewing the furniture to flea infestations. Some are also concerned that a pet may be a nuisance to neighbours (i.e. noise nuisance from barking), or that there will be added mess and lingering smells which will need additional cleaning at the end of the tenancy.

Of course, tenants also need to have reasonable expectations: no-one is going to give you permission to keep a horse in your house for example, or to have an enormous Great Dane if you live in a studio apartment. You should also do your research, and ensure that you fully understand the responsibility that comes with being a pet owner: they are a joy, but they can be a bind, and they will cost you a lot of money to keep – so you need to make sure you are financially able to commit for the expected lifespan of your pet.

If you are in a similar situation to me, my advice would be to ask – you’ll never know if you don’t! Write your landlord a letter, detailing how you will be a responsible pet owner, and any arrangements you have to ensure the pet will be happy in your home. If you do volunteer with an animal shelter, or have had a pet before, get them or your vet to write you a reference, and include this with what you send to your landlord. Offer to pay an additional deposit (to dispel any fears of additional cleaning costs or damage), or agree to pay for a professional clean at the end of the tenancy, as I did. You can sell the benefits to your landlord too: the National Landlord’s Association’s chief executive Richard Lambert and charity Shelter have stated that tenants who are granted permission for pets tend to stay within the rental property for a longer period of time. (Source: https://www.todaysconveyancer.co.uk/guest-writers/home-life-tenants-given-automatic-right-keep-pets-rental-properties/

It is my hope that we will soon see more landlords seeing the benefits of pet ownership that I have outlined above, and agreeing to let their tenants enjoy the experience of welcoming a cat or dog in their home. The benefits to tenants’ mental health could be enormous, and landlords could enjoy longer term tenancies and happier tenants – that seems like an a-woof-ly good idea to me. 

One final plea: if you are considering getting a pet, please look at your local shelters or national organisations such as The Dogs Trust or Cats Protection, rather than buying a new puppy or kitten. The Stray Dog Survey confirmed that 47,596 dogs were left behind in council pounds and remained unclaimed by their owners in 2014-15, and The Dog Rescue Federation estimates that around 20,000 mutts are destroyed each year in the UK alone, simply because no one wants them and the demand for space never stops. (Source: https://www.veganfoodandliving.com/adopt-dont-shop-the-reality-behind-the-hashtag/)

If you are lucky enough to be given permission to have a pet from your landlord, then please consider helping one of those in need and adopting – it will be one of the best things you ever do.

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Pets in the PRS – a pawsome combination?

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