What makes us love our pets so much? An expert explains
Our culture is pet-loving. Our culture is pet-loving. It was also “deeply unfashionable” among scholars in the 1980s, John Bradshaw wrote in his book “The Animals Between Us: How Pets Make Us Human.”
Bradshaw, an honorary research fellow from the University of Bristol, England, could tell you. He trained as a biologist, one who studies animals and not humans. His research on cat and dog behavior made him realize that understanding these topics would only be possible if he also considered how humans view their pets. Anthrozoology was a term he and a few other researchers created in 1990 to describe their study of pet ownership. University students are still studying the topic he pioneered at one of the few dozen U.S. universities.
Bradshaw’s latest book argues that pet ownership is not a reason for our fascination. Bradshaw argues that pet-keeping is intrinsic to human nature and deeply rooted in our species’ evolution. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with him about his conclusions.
I get a lot of press releases, and I read many headlines about pets being good for our health. The science is more complicated, but it’s not hard to see the point
It is known that pets can reduce stress levels as long as they behave well. Positive interactions can have a significant impact on oxytocin levels and beta-endorphins. These fundamental changes occur in the body when a dog is being stroked. That’s the upside. Pets, real pets who live with their owners, can create stress, expense, and other issues that can lead to arguments within the household. Considering humanity as a whole, these two things balance out. Many reports say pets can make you live longer and make you healthier. However, there are also many other reports, especially those from doctors who don’t have any stake in the field. These reports often find no effect or adverse side effects. Because of this bias in reporting, the headlines about the study showing that cat owners are more depressed than those who don’t own pets were not reported. Pet-keeping is a common habit that has no significant impact on your health. Potential health benefits if the dog is active and gets people moving. They’re not going to be included in the package.
What is the disconnect between public perceptions of pets as a panacea and evidence
It’s about the strange and unique effect pets have on people. I call it the trustworthiness effect. Although it hasn’t been widely reported in the media, it has been confirmed in numerous studies across several countries. People who have animals or are described as having a friend with an animal instantly make them more trustworthy to the person they meet or hear about them. It is pretty straightforward. People are more likely to believe animals’ stories. It’s possible that this applies to news reports, but it seems like a plausible explanation. It also helps explain a lot about animal-assisted therapy. It is in the ability to make the animal more approachable that the magic happens. It’s not just the seniors who find the visitor to be a great person to talk with, but also the staff who find them beneficial. The whole place feels more familiar. The dog or any other animal changes people’s perceptions of the person doing the therapy. This is called the trustworthiness factor, which is responsible for many of our biases.
Is it wrong to have misguided beliefs about pets? Many animals require homes
My career has been spent pursuing the idea of better welfare of household pets. I see potential risks. We are seeing most people ignoring the fact that these animals need to be understood. The knowledge about how to care for animals was handed down from one person to another 50 years ago. Today, we live in a more isolated world. It is no longer about getting a pet that will make you happy or de-stress but about researching the animal’s needs. Flat-faced dogs are a particular concern. It’s something that people need to understand. A dog who looks cute may also have eye problems, breathing problems, or other health issues. This is something I find very distressing. Although we have much more information about dogs and their thoughts, it must be passed on to owners who follow the fashion and their gut instincts. It’s supposed to be an excellent experience for them. But it won’t be for their dog.
Flat-faced dogs like this bulldog puppy, posing at an American Kennel Club event in 2013, are among the most popular breeds in the United States. (Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for the American Kennel Club)
Why are we keeping our pets
Pet-keeping is an integral part of human life and has existed for thousands of years. Why would people do something that seems so unproductive?
This is one reason why there is such satisfaction. Strolling a cat or dog causes hormones to release and makes you feel good. This can be traced back to our ancient history as hairy primates. Primate societies are bonded together by the ability to groom one another. There are many other ways to socialize, but there is one thing that we all have in common: the need to groom hairy animals. We can do that by brushing their fur or by combing their cats.
It’s also important to explain why this persists when we have less money if we don’t have pets. It used to be adaptive. People who were good with animals were more likely to be accepted by their tribe. Some grooms and brides may have been selected based on their affinity with animals. The second is that the domestication of animals was an essential part of civilization’s emergence. It’s not possible because you must change the genetics of an animal to be able to domesticate it. It can take many generations, even today. It is difficult to explain how domestic animals are separated from their wild ancestors. We had the appearance of a domestic dog which is very useful. A domestic cat can be helpful as it can hunt around houses and milk goats and sheep. Because societies were skilled at domesticating animals, they became an advantage.
Today, pet owners spend a lot of money on their pets. We send them to spas and buy furniture for them. How did pet-keeping become pet indulgence?
You’ll see that pets owned by nobility and royalty back in the Middle Ages were given the best care and food. Although they weren’t dressed in Halloween costumes, this was an ancient custom. Because people have the means to make it more popular, it’s now much more common. There are also other trends. People are putting off having children in the U.K. If someone is unable to have children or feels they aren’t ready due to not being able to achieve their career goals, or they don’t have the money for a large apartment and think that a child needs a home with a yard, I believe that an animal can fill that gap for a few more years. Buying your dog Halloween costumes is cheaper than purchasing an apartment with more space.
What does the future look like for pet-keeping
Assuming wealth continues to spread, which is a questionable assumption, I see other cultures becoming more interested in having pets. A few years back, I studied the Americanization of Japanese pet-keeping. It is a phenomenon where more people bring their dogs into their homes and treat them as family members. This will be a trend that will continue to spread to other cultures. Due to world resources, there will be a need for a rethink in the long term. Both cats and dogs are carnivores. The cat is a strict carnivore. We can unlikely continue farming the world in a way that provides enough meat for humans. It is doubtful that it will be feasible to continue keeping these animals. If it does, what alternatives are available? I find this fascinating, even though it can be painful for those involved.
Which anthrozoology topics are worth more research
Anthrozoology has been reduced to a type of alternative medicine. Many people are looking for health benefits, and many think of animals as therapeutic agents. The more interesting questions I see are about how people view animals. What kind of emotions does it cause? And why? The idea of pet-keeping seems quite irrational. Let’s not just focus on the therapeutic benefits of pet-keeping, but how does that affect our ability to see the truth? The evidence must be more convincing than its most passionate advocates would like us to believe.
How does our relationship with animals in our homes affect our perception of the natural environment? Arguments about the planet and how we should treat it are based on logic. People’s daily contact with animals needs to be more. Children can learn more about biology by pointing out, ‘ This dog is a dog. It is how it lives, breathes, and digests food. This can help children be better pet owners. We must have a new generation who are passionate about animals. Pets are a great way to do this. This is very ineffective, as people who understand cats will likely be the same people who support wildlife conservation.