Why People Love Pets

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In my opinion, many Americans have and care for pets more than others. During my walks, I come across many people who walk with their dogs in my neighborhood. Some owners spend thousands of dollars on their pet’s food and care. Pet stories often make evening news headlines. 

In a Guardian piece, the pet I will never forget, Emine Saner says she spent 2K pounds on her beloved 20-year-old dying dog.

Anyway, Ruby was like a little dog. Even though it was 20 years ago, I can picture buying her (from an open-farm attraction with – my dream! – a guinea pig village) more clearly than the births of my children. She was scampering around, a flash of smooth, shiny brown fur, and looked so much less inscrutable than the other guinea pigs for sale; I’ve had several in my life, and she was by far the most intelligent and engaging.

– Emine Saner in The Guardian

In a recent article in the Conversation magazine, Danielle Mills, a Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln, explains that there are evolutionary reasons why humans love pets.

The connection between an owner and their pet is typically a close emotional one, and every bond is unique. When emotions are involved, relationships cannot be viewed in terms of their material worth. We should perhaps stop thinking about them in purely cold rational terms, as the human desire to care for another being is a powerful one.

Evolutionary theories that seek to explain this bond range from the biophilia hypothesis (humans have an intrinsic attraction to the natural world) to an inherent attraction or caring response to child-like characteristics such as a high forehead, large eyes and a shortened nose.

A stronger bond may form between owners and species or individual pets who require intense or special care, and show greater dependence on their human carer. But this doesn’t mean the more care a pet needs, the closer the bond its owner will feel for it. The emotional cost of problem behaviour, such as not being able to relax because a dog may spring at new people, can marr the relationship.

– Prof. Danielle Mills in The Conversation

Prof. Mills lists the following nine benefits of owning a pet:

  • Biophilia boost: interacting with and immersing ourselves within the natural world can be intrinsically beneficial to us, given our evolutionary history.
  • Caring and attachment: tending for another creature is a rewarding activity. It makes us feel good and develop a stronger sense of purpose.
  • Social support: having a pet nearby can reduce loneliness. Often, we may interpret pet behaviour in a way that provides us with emotional support.
  • Social catalysts: pets can be a social lubricant in many contexts. This might not only improve our personal networks, but also (indirectly) increase our sense of social support from others.
  • Emotional contagion: many of our pets look happy and carefree much of the time, and that can be infectious. A pet can help us surround ourselves with a more upbeat social circle.
  • Routines: caring for pets can put structure into our days and thus help reduce stress
  • Exercise: many pets encourage us to exercise more, and this has neurophysiological as well as physical benefits.
  • Learning: finding out more about something, including animal behaviour, can be highly rewarding, especially when you achieve a degree of competence.
  • Physical affection: touch can have powerful effects on us, so petting may be psychologically very good for us.

“But pets, regardless of their species, can be important not only to how we feel but our sense of purpose and broader satisfaction with life. So, we should not be surprised when an owner appreciates that financial cost is of little importance when it comes to securing these goals,” writes Prof. Mills.

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