Pets - Why Own Them?

As sensible, rational, thinking human beings, why is it that we insist on indulging the whims and fancies of our furry four-legged and feathery two-legged friends?

Why do we allow our pets to share our houses with us, to sleep in our bedrooms or even in our beds? Are they really worth the trouble?

They make messes in our houses, often smelly ones, they spread fleas, disease, allergens and hair without a care.

They chew up our belongings, dig up our gardens, wake us at night with their noise and generally are a disturbance to our peace and serenity.

Despite all of their problems, pets are important to most Australians. In Australia, 66% of households own a pet of some description. Even those who don't are still probably nice people. More than half of them would own pets if they could.

They only steel their hearts against the padding of paws because they live in accommodation not suited to pets or because they are not home to care for a pet. If you were to peek into the insane houses of pet owners, you would find that dogs represent 68% of the pets owned, cats represent 45%, and birds 25%.

So, pet ownership must give some benefit to those who indulge. Even non pet owners will state that they 'feel good' around animals. That feeling does not only apply to companion animals such as dogs and cats but also to a barn full of dairy cows, horses grazing peacefully in a field, or birds twittering in the trees overhead.

Think back several thousand years or more to when you were a neighbourly Neanderthal gnawing on a Brontosaurus bone at the entrance to your cave. If the birds overhead suddenly flew off as one, loudly screeching, and the serenely grazing, cloven footed beasties in the plain below suddenly stampeded, you would immediately be on your mettle to challenge any Cro-Magnon Cowboy who was approaching with evil intent.

In this modern day and age, the herds of grazing beasties and flocks of twittering birds are replaced by dog and cats. While in couch potato mode in front of the TV with your trusty, but worn remote in one hand and an inactive purring puss on your lap, you are similar in (not) many respects to your Neanderthal ancestors. What would happen if, suddenly, the purring puss stiffened and growled and the placid pooch lying beside your chair emitted a guttural growl and walked stiff-legged and erect-haired to the front door? Your reaction would be similar to your Neanderthal forefather. So animals at peace send a message to use that all is well.

Volumes of research have been written pointing to the beneficial effects of pet ownership. Pet owners lay claim to better blood pressure control, lower cholesterol levels, and lower stress levels. Pity the unhealthy minority who don't have the pleasure of experiencing such stress and cholesterol reduction while cleaning poodle piddle from the patio!

Apparently it is not just the touching, patting or handling of animals that causes a reduction in anxiety but also the mere observation of animals that can have much the same effect. Many doctors and dentists are now placing aquariums in their waiting rooms as the fluid and graceful movements of the fish pacify their clinics' waiting patients.

Speaking about doctors, dentists and vets, have you noted when in a doctor's waiting room, that nobody speaks to you? What happens when you are in your vet's waiting room? I am sure you would vouch that pet owners chat happily to each other about the antics of their pets. Yes, pets are great conversation starters.

The Pet Care Information and Advisory Service have determined that dog parks start romances! They have discovered that 94% of people at dog parks chat happily to other dog owners who are total strangers. Further they have determined that 38% of people who meet at dog parks have become more than just 'passing acquaintances'. Ah, forget internet dating sites! Go to the dog park instead.

The attitude of people to their pets is really quite interesting. Nearly all pet owners consider their pet is a family member and most will talk to their pets about important matters at least once per day in the expectation that the pets understand what they are saying.

People-Who-Know-Such-Things state that 56% of dog owners and 95% of cat owners allow their pets to sleep on or in the bed, but surely only a fruit cake would celebrate their pet's birthday! People-Who-Know-Such-Things state that 54% of dog owners and 39% of cat owners celebrate their pets' birthdays and other important events, too. In reality, such regard for pets is normal and healthy.

Pets are certainly great companions. A dog is your best friend, a fact recognised by Frederick the Great who stated "The more I see of Man, the better I like my dog". Obviously his dog was one indulged pooch.

A properly revered dog will always greet you with maximum enthusiasm - jumping, chatting and gyrating, letting you know just how important you are by placing their muddy signatures on your imported Italian suit. Many dog owners will report that they get a warmer welcome from their pooch than they do from their spouse. Dogs are wonderful creatures and are so often a 'friend in need'.

Cats are different though. Whereas dogs are faithful, loyal, and obedient, such base emotions are below a cat's dignity. Cats, according to cats, are the Supreme Being - superior, aloof and so intelligent. If they could only use a can opener, they could totally dispense with us mere humans.

When a cat chooses to allocate a morsel of attention to its owner, the bells chime, the seas part and heaven visits for a brief interlude. You can't make a cat like you and you can't control a cat as you can a dog. You may share the same house, but the arrangement is totally at the cat's discretion.

Yup - wonderful therapy pets!

By Dr Cam Day BVSc - Last updated 16 November 2012

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