Last week I mentioned that according to the American Animal Hospital Association, Americans own 69 million cats and 62 million dogs. These surveys are conducted from time to time from its membership across the United States and Canada. The goal is to learn more about relationships between humans and their pets. Respondents were those who take their pets to AAHA veterinarians. There are 22,000 veterinary care providers who belong to this international organization.
So -- what have they found out?
The results show the increasing human-animal bond:
- 74 percent of pet owners would go into debt for the well-being of their pet.
- 93 percent buy presents for their pet. More than half of pet owners purchase at least four gifts annually.
- 83 percent acquired their pet primarily for companionship.
- 44 percent acquired a pet mainly to keep another pet company.
- 66 percent prepare special food for their pet.
- Of owners who have a will, 27 percent have included provisions in that will for their pet.
- 29 percent of pet owners rely on their pet the most for companionship and affection.
- 37 percent talk to their pet on the telephone or through an answering machine.
- 44 percent have purchased souvenirs for their pet while on vacation.
- 78 percent of dog owners and 68 percent of cat owners allow their pet to lick their face.
- 39 percent have furniture that is reserved mainly for their pet's use.
"Believe it our not, these results are not surprising to us," says Dr. Michael Thomas, president of AAHA. "For years we have known about the growing importance that people place on their pets. For most people, a pet is much more than just a pet. They are full-fledged members of the family who play a critical role in today's society."
Not all veterinarians belong to the AAHA, and not all pet owners regularly bring their pets to any veterinarian. So these statistics are quite skewed.
These pets listed above are certainly the fortunate ones. Besides receiving regular health care, they are greatly loved. They are part of the family.
Although the percentage of people who allow their dog to sleep on the bed with them is not available to me right now, it is surprisingly high. In Shirley MacLaine's new book, "Out On A Leash," she states without embarrassment that not only does her dog, Terry, sleep with her but she turns down movie offers if it means she will have to be away from her dog for any length of time.
Up here, in our more rural setting, we see many dogs and cats that do not even have homes. Feral cats are everywhere, scavenging for food and a dry shelter from the cold weather. The humane society is full of rejects -- dogs and cats that no one wants -- and most unwanted pets are unneutered, so they are constantly producing more and more unwanted pets.
Male horses are castrated almost routinely. Why do we have such a problem with neutering our dogs and cats? Do we think it is cruel? Cruel is not neutering.
But the big question is, why would anyone get a dog or cat if they were not willing and eager to provide a good home for it? Pet ownership is certainly not a status symbol. In fact, if you have a dog in your yard that is not cared for, you are being judged harshly by your neighbors. Why would anyone want a dog or cat around if they were not going to have it be part of their family? Why bother?
Hopefully more and more pet owners will realize the importance and value of treating their pet with kindness and making it part of the family.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if 100 percent of all pets were primarily companions to their humans? That is the role they want to fill in our lives and the role for which they are so very well suited. As our companions, we would want the best for them. And they would be there for us -- always.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@ earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry AZ 85544.