A touching memorial penned by Taboo star Tom Hardy to his late dog Woody triggered an outpouring of tears from the internet this weekend. It’s clear, from Hardy’s heartbreaking post, that his pet, who passed away on June 5, had come to represent more than just a companion — Woody, it seems, had become a form of emotional support. Recent research supports the idea that Hardy and Woody shared more than just a friendly bond; a new study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that Woody helped protect his owner’s mental and physical health.

“Woody was the bestest of journey companions we ever could dream of having. Our souls intertwined forever,” Hardy wrote in a raw and riveting blog post, which detailed the story of his intensely close friendship with his dog, a stray that he picked up while on the set of Lawless.

While there’s some evidence that owning a pet or using therapy animals can improve the mental well-being of people suffering from psychological distress, there hasn’t been much research on the costs and benefits of having a pet for healthy people until now. In the new study, published on June 11, the researchers showed that pet owners are emotionally, socially, and physically better off than those who don’t own pets.

“Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners,” said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell, Ph.D., of Miami University in Ohio, in a statement. The research, the authors noted in their paper, applied to “everyday people” — not just those dealing with health issues.

"Our souls intertwined forever." 

It probably won’t come as a surprise that there are psychological benefits to owning a pet, especially for people who know what it’s like to experience a special bond with their dog or cat. But most of the research up to this point has only shown a correlation between pet ownership and improved well-being — not causation. The current study, the researchers note, shows a more definitive relationship between the two.

In three experiments involving groups of 50 to 217 participants, the researchers surveyed pet owners and people without animals about the details of their personal lives, their social needs, and their experience of social rejection. The results of the first study showed that pet owners are “happier, healthier and better adjusted” than non-owners; in the second, dog ownership increased feelings of “belonging, self-esteem, and meaningful existence.” The third showed that writing about a beloved pet was equally as therapeutic as writing about a close friend when the objective was to stave off feelings of social rejection.

Taken together, the research supports the idea that dogs provide an important form of social support for their owners. It’s the latest addition to a body of knowledge suggesting that pet owners are better off than their pet-free counterparts, which recently included research showing that dog owners have especially healthy microbiomes and a study demonstrating that kids’ attitudes toward reading are improved when they read to dogs.

Of course, pet owners like Hardy hardly need convincing that their pets play an important part in their well being. His blog post made it clear how much Woody contributed — socially and emotionally — to his life, and how painful it felt when it was taken away:

He was Far too young to leave us and We at home are devastated by his loss I am ultimately grateful for his loyal companionship and love and it is of some great comfort that he is no longer suffering. Above all I am completely gutted. the world for me was a better place with him in it and by my side. . . With all of me I love you. Always Thankyou for Your love beautiful boy.

Photos via Tom Hardy