Our bonds with our animal companions are deeper now than they were even just a few decades ago. There is a connection that is different now; or is it that the profound connection is more accepted now?
Seventy percent of pet owners say they sometimes sleep with their pets. This is quite a change from the days when the dog was chained in the yard, or the cats lived in the barn (although many animals, sadly, do still live that way.)
“Co-sleeping” is a term used by advocates of Attachment Parenting for human babies. The research says that when the baby sleeps with the parents, there are many benefits, one of which is bonding on a brain-level. One wonders if the same is true with our pets; and why wouldn’t it be?
Twenty-three percent of pet guardians cook special meals for their pets. People who are “uniquely bonded” (see previous posts) to their pets derive pleasure from watching their animal companions eat.
Forty percent of married women with pets say they get more emotional support from their pets than from their husbands. That statistic is sure to bring a wry smile to the face of many a woman; but is it really a snide comment indicating that husbands are not supportive—or on the contrary, simply a statement of how deep and unmatched the support of an animal can be. Perhaps, when that human-animal bond is strong, there really is no way a human could compete with that kind of support.
A large number of people refused to leave New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, as we may recall. We may have wondered why on earth they stubbornly stood their ground in the face of a lethal threat. It turns out that the reason that many did not leave was that they refused to abandon their animal companions.
Today, about two-thirds of households in the U.S. include at least one pet. This is an all-time high. Humans have always lived with animals—farm animals and hunting dogs, for example. But not as “members of the family,” as we now consider them.
It is true that aristocratic ladies have long had their lap dogs and ferrets; there are famous portraits to remind us. That kind of pet ownership was a luxury of a minority of very wealthy people.
Interestingly, some people also did keep dogs in their beds during the Great Plague—so that the fleas (which carried the plague) would settle on the dogs and not on them.
However, the idea that every family is made better by having a dog or a cat or both—this is quite new. The custom has really taken off since the World War II era and the Lassie Show.
At the same time, our culture has been changing to a more indoor, fluorescent lit, sedentary one. It’s sometimes said that most of us are suffering from a “Nature Deficit Disorder.” We no longer live on farms (most of us), and if it weren’t for our pets, we would never touch animals at all. Perhaps there is a deeply wired need to have animals near to us, and this is the need our pets are meeting.
The term “pet parent” did not exist ten years ago. Now many people refer to their dogs and cats as “my baby,” or “my soul mate.” What is happening now, at this point in our evolution, to create this depth of connection between us and our pets?