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The Value of Pets in Our Lives

More than 50% of Canadian households own pets of some kind. The domestication of animals is not a new trend as evidence suggests that the domestication of dogs occurred at least 12,000 years ago and cats around 9000 years ago. What is the lure to share our living quarters with a pet?

People often say the dogs are “man’s best friend” and studies now show that owning a pet does indeed have the same psychological and emotional benefits as having human friends.

Researchers looked at whether dog owners experienced greater benefits when their pets were seen as fulfilling their social needs. It was discovered, “to the extent that their dogs fulfilled needs related to belongingness, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control, owners enjoyed a range of better outcomes” (e.g.,  less depression, less loneliness, greater self-esteem, greater happiness, and less perceived stress).

Additionally, dog ownership has also been implicated in helping to alleviate symptoms of depression among terminally ill patients, the elderly, and veterans suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  In the U.S., many therapies targeting returning veterans specifically integrate canine therapy, with some sources referring to the presence of dogs as “life-savers” for these veterans.

One common trait of pet owners is anthropomorphic thinking – the ability to perceive human characteristics in either real or imagined nonhuman objects – in this case, pets. While virtually all pet owners talk to their pets, an amazing 94% spoke to their pets as though they were human, with 95% regarding their pets as friends and 87% feeling pets were family members.

How does this anthropomorphic thinking manifest? A recent survey revealed that nearly 80% of pet owners gave their pets holiday or birthday presents. More than 60% signed their pets’ names on cards and other correspondences.

More than 90% of pet owners believe their pets are aware of their moods and emotions.  In one study, a third of the participants felt that their pets were better listeners than their own spouses.  Indeed, dogs have adapted to human’s emotional needs over the centuries and this has led to not only their survival, but their human-like place in our homes and hearts.

Some earlier studies suggested that pet owners’ increased emotional attachment and dependency to their pets hindered relationships with humans. However, recent studies show that many pet owners show increased empathy for others, as the empathy and understanding needed to figure out their pet’s complex communication is transferred to human relationships.

On a psychological level, the bond people seek in pets is a sign that we still need to be part of the natural world, one of instincts and being in the moment. The increased draw towards pet companionship also indicates the increased need for humans to emotionally connect, to fill a void that often exists in our disconnected society.

I encourage you to help support the September 8th, Paws for a Cause Walk which raises funds to support life-saving support for nearly 29,000 abused, injured, neglected and homeless animals.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.