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Then and Now: How Feelings Toward Pets Have Changed

By: Alex Lieber

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Way back in 1995, about 55 percent of people surveyed called themselves their pet's mom or dad; roughly half celebrated their pet's birthday; and 58 percent of pets traveled with their owners.

Almost seven years later, 83 percent of people unabashedly refer to themselves as their pet's mommy or daddy. Almost 60 percent of people celebrate their pets' birthdays. And 68 percent of pets travel with their owners.

For the past 11 years, the American Animal Hospital Association has surveyed people's habits and feelings when it comes to their pets. It wasn't until 1995 when this annual survey, one of the largest in North America, included questions that probed just how deep the relationship between pet and owner has grown.

The questionnaire, given to clients at veterinary clinics that are members of the AAHA, has changed somewhat. Questions have been added, deleted or phrased differently. However, the human-animal bond clearly gets stronger with every passing year, notes Derek Woodbury, spokesman for the AAHA. "Seeing the numbers go up each year doesn't surprise us at all," he said.

For instance, in 1991 about 1.6 percent of all pet owners purchased health insurance for their pets, according to the survey. In 2000, roughly 3 percent of pet owners insured their pets. In just a year, that figure has risen to 5 percent, the survey noted.

The latest survey is based on returned questionnaires from 1,225 people throughout the United States and Canada (respondents lived in 44 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces).

Love Me ... Love My Pet

Perhaps the greatest sign of the pet-owner bond is in the field of love. In 2001, more than 90 percent of people surveyed would not date someone who didn't like their pet. However, this question was phrased somewhat differently in 1998.

Then, the question was, "Have you ever ended a relationship because of your pet?" Unlike the 2001 question, this asks for a response to an actual situation, not a hypothetical scenario. Perhaps this is why the number is so low – 7 percent of people had ended relationships because the pet and the significant other did not get along.

Here are some of the other results of the 2001 questionnaire:

  • The majority of people – 52 percent – say their pet is the "best listener in the household." Spouses are a distant second, at just 31 percent. Perhaps this is why 78 percent of people talk to their pet in a different voice.

  • Sixty-seven percent of people spend between $5 to $25 on toys and presents for their pet. Around 3 percent spend $100 to less than $500, and 1 percent of people spend more than $500.

  • About 52 percent of people are better at remembering the names of their neighbor's pets than the names of the neighbor.

  • Almost 60 percent of our pets have a best friend.

  • Pets and spouses/significant others came out the same – 48 percent – in the question "How often do you say 'I love you.'"

  • Pets are considered unique – only 8 percent said they would ever consider cloning their pet.

    Gender Patterns

    One very interesting statistic is the question that probes the relationship between the gender of pet owners and the frequency of veterinary visits. Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed were female. Another question asked how many clients of either sex were married – 64 percent.

    The survey is filled out at the clinic, usually while clients wait as their pets are treated. This could mean that couples take their pet to the vet together and the woman fills out the form; most pet owners are woman; or women tend to take their pets to the vet more often than men.

    The last point – that women are more likely to take their pets to the vet than men – has some independent evidence to back it up. A study done in 2000 showed that men are much less likely to go to the doctor for their own health as compared to women. One in three men had no regular doctor, as compared to one in five women. Furthermore, one in four men would wait as long as possible before seeking help if he was concerned for his health.

    The study was done by The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based foundation that supports independent research on health and social issues.

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