(originally published March 10, 2010)
More than 80 million Americans are pet owners, and spend nearly 25 billion dollars on veterinary care. Why do we do that?
Originally, animals served a largely utilitarian purpose: horses pulled carts, dogs protected the farms, and cats ate rodents. This dependency on animals to help us in our daily lives evolved into warm, close bonded relationships with them – and that's a good thing, but only up to a point.
Taking on the responsibility of caring for an animal is a sacrifice, and requires an unselfish commitment that elevates human character. Making sure your pets have food before you do, and providing a safe haven for them is an expression of compassion. Enjoying the enthusiasm of your dog or cat when you appear on the scene, having your blood pressure drop when you pet them – those are the perks of having a pet around.
However, if you are infinitely more comfortable with animals than humans, the scales have tipped way too far in the wrong direction. Human communication is largely verbal, and give-and-take is an essential part of human bonding (along with trust). When an individual is fearful or hostile about human connection, it's nice if they have a pet (a warm mammal) to hold close, but it's not a substitute for a human relationship.
I get way too many calls from, for example, people like the woman who keeps a dangerous dog in the home (with little kids), because her husband chooses to keep the dog in spite of the threat to his own children; or the man who calls and complains he has a ferocious allergy to cats, but his fiancée will not adopt her cat out to let him move in after the wedding! If this sounds like you or someone you know, it's time to revisit the situations, because choices like these are, obviously, the wrong choices.