Greyt Inspirations Life

A little about our life, our business and our pets. www.greytinspirations.com

Pets instead of people?

There’s a very interesting article in the Boston Globe this week called “Why we treat our pets like royalty.” The article discusses some of the many changes that have occurred in our society that have led to dogs becoming virtual family members — moving from a rural society to an urban one, having less contact with animals in general and, being a lonelier society. I thought this last theory was very insightful.
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Ultimately, the impulse toward pet humanization is all about us. According to James Serpell, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, it was in the 1960s that the pet population began to grow faster than the human one. Had this boom simply been a reflection of postwar prosperity, you might have expected it to show up a decade or so earlier. Instead, Serpell posits that the upturn was a reflection of the massive social changes that first took hold then.

“Social networks fragmented over 40 years – there’s more living alone, more divorce, more childless people, fewer people living in close geographic range of their families, and less community involvement,” Serpell says. “As we lose social support, as our relations become fragmented, we are using dogs to fill the gap.”

Research suggests that a lonelier society may be more willing to see human qualities in pets. In a 2007 article, University of Chicago professor Nicholas Epley and three colleagues determined that subjects who were less socially connected were more likely to attribute human emotional characteristics to dogs.

How smart is that? It’s true that people today seem to have fewer connections with the past and with their families that at previous times in history. A hundred years ago many people lived in large, extended families. Whether rural or urban, they had a lot of human family connections. Being childless was rare and even if you were childless you probably had another family member’s children to help care for. You probably lived geographically close to your parents and other siblings. And very few people divorced. All of these connections provided forms of family support that many of us can’t count on today. To fill that void we have turned to pets.

Today families are smaller, people may live far from their parents and other siblings, and divorce is frequent. To be honest, many people aren’t married to begin with so children may be raised by single parents. All of these conditions encourage people to seek other bonds. Pets seem to be filling the need to bond with a living being who will be there day after day. All of this makes us more likely to attribute human emotions to our pets even in situations when we know, intellectually, that our pets can’t know or feel the same things that a human would.

Is this substitution of pets for people harmful to us as a society? Pets are filling a great need but what about people who are choosing to have pets in their lives instead of people? Shouldn’t we also be trying to make human connections? Is it good to give up on human relationships?

This article certainly is thought-provoking.

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April 2, 2009 - Posted by | dogs, Pets | , ,

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