Designing Urban Spaces to Promote the Health Benefits of Companion Pets:
A One Health Challenge

Companion pets can play an important role in the health
and well-being of their owners, and this might be especially the case for people who are socially marginalized. For example, owning a pet has been associated with more physical activity, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels (reducing risk of cardiovascular disease), fewer symptoms of depression or anxiety, and less stress reactivity when in the presence of their pet. These benefits have been especially noted among people who are often socially excluded, including peoples who are living in a state of homelessness, children with autism, and among the elderly. Just as there are many health benefits, there are also health risks associated with companion pets. Some may be direct (e.g., transmission of parasites), whereas others are indirect (e.g., when people who need medical treatment don’t seek it for fear of not being able to keep their pet). Moreover, caring for a pet can be a challenge if the urban environment creates barriers to healthy behaviours, such as a lack of spaces to walk dogs, housing that allows pets, not being able to bring pets on public transport. Social attitudes can also present obstacles to changes that would promote healthy human-pet relationships and impacts.

Your challenge is use a One Health framework to develop a strategy for a designing a plan for the Ottawa inner city area to create the environmental and social conditions that allow anyone, including marginalized or vulnerable populations, to be able to effectively care for, and derive the health benefits (psychologically, socially, emotionally and physically) of companion pets. Students must consider the scientific evidence, the social and environmental context, communications, and the policies, programs and infrastructure that are needed to promote healthy human-pet interactions in a dense urban area.

These issues will create the building blocks for how to go about designing a comprehensive, community-engaged urban design plan.  This will necessarily incorporate the multiple perspectives that emanate from taking a One Health stance; human health, environmental factors, and animal health. It must be actionable, taking into consideration resources and policies already in place, and the range of realities that exist in the inner-city area. Your approach must include a plan for communicating with and engaging various stakeholders.

Although the focus will be on strategies that promote human health, there are many gateways that you can use to bring together the interplay between human, animal, and environmental health. For example, you might consider neurochemical processes associated with stress reduction; the risk of viral and bacterial infections associated with animals;  worries about the animal’s health and accessibility and the resources to access pet health care;  issues contributing to social marginalization and vulnerability; factors (including policies) associated with the natural (green spaces) and built environments; and so on, including

  • Urban planning and design
  • Benefits/management of urban green spaces
  • Mental health issues (trauma, substance use, anxiety, depression, loneliness, grief)
  • Physical health (physical activity, obesity, heart disease)
  • Positive psychology (human-environment relationship, social support)
  • Zooeyia
  • Zoonosis (e.g., parasites, Lyme disease)
  • Public health
  • Animal behavior
  • Animal welfare/veterinary care
  • Integrated services (health)
  • Waste management
  • Media communications
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Aging and caregiving
  • Municipal processes (budgets, city planning)
  • Community-based research methods and consultation processes
  • Much more

These issues demonstrate how multiple human, environmental, and animal health issues are intertwined. Thus, challenge participants must reflect on each of these three components in order to design a strategy for developing an urban plan that promotes healthy human-pet interactions.

Final Challenge:

On November 22 (10:30am – 1:30pm), each team will present their framework in the form of an exhibit (e.g., infographic, poster, bulletin) and oral presentation to a panel of experts.

For your oral presentation, you will have 12 minutes to present your ideas, including

  • the research considered
  • the critical factors that you believe need to be addressed in the short, medium, and long term
  • potential barriers and opportunities
  • the community stakeholders and their roles in contributing to a One Health planning approach
  • your communication and engagement strategy.

Following your presentation, a panel of judges will circulate to your exhibit, and will ask each team 3-4 questions to further explore your thinking about the issue.