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english cocker spaniel
“The pet owner of today is very different from the pet owner of 15 years ago.”

I heard this statement at the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association Conference, and no one disagreed. I know it to be true myself.
Fifteen years ago, you would not have heard anyone refer to his cat as “my son.” You would not have heard the vet tech say to your dog, “Will Mom (referring to you, of course) let you have a treat?” The first time I ever heard anyone refer to her dog as her “soul mate” was only about five years ago, and it startled me. Now these changes in the way we talk about our connections to our companion animals are no longer extraordinary. They have become part of the fabric of our culture, like so many other changes.

Usually, when we talk about recent changes in society, we are referring to technology or equal rights for all human beings. But there are changes occurring, subtly and not so subtly, in the way we think and talk about the creatures who share this planet with us. There are more vegetarians and vegans, there is more concern about puppy mills, factory farms and animal testing, and there is definitely more connection between people and their companion animals.

Are all of these changes in society somehow connected? I think they might be.

We long for connection as human beings always have, while at the same time being more isolated from one another than ever before. The internet and television give us the impression that we are having interactions, but they lack the warmth and eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul connection that are so life-giving. It’s our dogs and cats (and ferrets, house rabbits, parrots and horses) that heal our hearts with their beating hearts and loving presence.

People are more stressed than ever before. We are nutritionally impoverished, sleep-deprived, frazzled from over-scheduling and trying to multi-task. The human beings we love may not be present for us, because they are on their smart phones. And we may not be present for them, because we are tweeting and posting.

Meanwhile, the cat curls herself into a perfect circle on our lap.

The dog settles in next to us, nuzzling our arm, leaning against our leg.

The animal is the only one who comes to find us in the blazing, buzzing, electronics-filled house. And we feel accompanied on our solitary path; we feel deeply loved; we love in return.

Of course we still love our people, too. But it’s the companion animal who values us enough to give us warmth and time. This meets our very deep need for connection. We appreciate that. And so, we bond.

Have we as people always felt this parental or soul- connection to our pets, but only now, in the growing openness of our society, do we feel free and fearless enough to talk about it? Or are the connections between human and animal actually deeper than they used to be?

How do you see it? Please post your opinion.