Pet Owner Survey Reveals Strong Bond Between People and their Pets

In case there’s any doubt that we’re singing our pet’s praises, it turns out 65 percent of pet owners have sung and/or danced for their pets. The American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) 1999-2000 Pet Owner Survey didn’t ask, but probably fewer folks sing for their spouse.

Derek Woodbury, who supervised the Ninth Annual AAHA Pet Owner Survey, says some people have created little jingles they sing to their pets at suppertime.

“When we began these surveys in 1991, people were just beginning to admit that pets were part of their families,” says Woodbury, who is based in Denver, Colo. “Back then, even if 65 percent sang to their pets – they wouldn’t admit to it. Today, they’re proud of it.”

Of course, people aren’t as inhibited around their pets as they might be around people, according to clinical psychologist Vicki Seglin, who is a senior lecturer in social policy at the School of Education at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. “Our relationships with our pets are less conflicted than any others in our lives. When we offer our honest emotions to them, they’re not going to criticize or deliver certain conditions or expectations. We’re becoming increasingly intimate – in a non-sexual way – with our pets. It only makes sense–they give us unconditional love, trust and loyalty. “

In plain English, Seglin’s psychoanalysis means we’re embracing our pets as cherished members of the family.

The Pet Owner Survey indicates 87 percent include Fido and Fluffy in their holiday celebrations. Pet birthdays are an event in 67 percent of households (with pets). Of those, 11 percent throw a birthday pet bash, 43 percent wrap a gift for their pet (no comments on what a lizard or fish gift may be), 41 percent play their pets’ favorite game, and 45 percent are singing their pets’ praises, belting out their renditions of “Happy Birthday.” (The numbers add to more than 100 percent since owners may participate in more than one activity).

However, pet love isn’t restricted to special occasions. According to the survey, an overwhelming 78 percent greet their pet at the door before their spouse or significant other. Of course, the pets themselves are in part responsible. After all, they dash to the door before even a track-star spouse can make it.

There’s no better place to demonstrate intimacy than the bedroom. Seglin says the fact that 43 percent of pets (not including fish and snakes) share beds with their people, illustrates just how we feel.

Seglin, who is involved with rescuing abused pets and helping people grieve when a pet passes away, says “Generally, this is a good thing, certainly, it’s good company for a single person. With a couple it’s fine as long as both parties agree. But then I know of cases where an 80-pound dog lying between two people is 80 pounds of birth control – and a very effective means of birth control. This is not a good thing if both partners don’t agree. A Labrador can be an immovable road block if you get my drift.”

Pet life intimate stories are no longer limited to the bedroom or the home. At the office, 43 percent of owners display a photo of a smiling pooch, glad cat, chirpy bird or lazy lizard. “We want to show off our pets,” says Woodbury. “We’re as proud of them as we are our children.” Maybe more so, according to the survey. The family members most talked about at the water cooler are the kids with four legs (34 percent), followed by the kids with two legs (23 percent), a spouse or significant other (20 percent) and other family members (12 percent).

Perhaps, it’s the influence of “Take Your Dog to Work Day,” or maybe just less formal workplaces, but 44 percent of those questioned say they’ve taken their pet to work on at least one occasion.

Still, people are willing to miss work to care for their companion animals. Just over half of the respondents (53 percent) have taken off work at least once to tend to a sick pet. Of those, 32 percent have missed a half a day at the office, 63 percent have missed one to four days.

The survey doesn’t inquire if employees have been able to convince their bosses that caring for a sick pet is on par with whatever the company policy is for dealing with a sick child. Most companies are not that enlightened, but perhaps this survey is evidence that they should be. “You can’t dictate what is or is not important to people,” says Woodbury. “Certainly, to an increasing number of people, dealing with a sick pet is a life priority, maybe on par with dealing with a sick child.”

Seglin says this burgeoning embrace of companion animals doesn’t diminish love for two-legged family members. “Quite the contrary, maybe our pets are teaching us about love and commitment – they’re very good at that and we tend not to be. Clearly, more and more people consider pets as viable family members. This is humane, it’s responsible, it’s loving – I don’t see a down side.”

Here’s more from the 1999-2000 American Animal Hospital Association Pet Owner Survey:

  • Who understands you best? Here the spouse/significant other wins the prize with 47 percent, but the family pet follows at 31 percent.
  • Have you ever cooked especially for your pet? 52 percent say “yes.”
  • Have you ever used to the Internet to learn more about you pet? 44 percent say “yes.”
  • What type of alternative medicines have you used? 69 percent say “none.” 19 percent massage; ten percent herbal remedies; six percent homeopathic; three percent acupuncture, and two percent chiropractic.

From past years’ American Animal Hospital Association Pet Owner Surveys:

1999: 83 percent admit talking to their pet in a special voice.
1996: 49 percent rely mostly on their spouse/significant other for affection, 47 percent rely on their pet.
1997: 14 percent of pets are afraid of thunderstorms
1997: Four percent of pets have attended a wedding and/or have tagged along on a honeymoon.
1998: Love me, love my pet – Seven percent have broken up a relationship because of a pet.

Note: This article is copyrighted by Steve Dale and can be used as source material and for reference only. It cannot be reprinted verbatim. Please contact Steve Dale at [email protected] if you have any questions.

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