It’s a no-brainer to say that having a pet improves your quality of life. That’s about the only reason why people have pets. Usually this starts in childhood. We want to love something a little bit more responsive than a teddy bear so our parents let us keep a dog, or cat or hamster or whatever. This is the same nurturing instinct that later persuades us to have children. Then we realize our mistake and go back to animals once the kids are finally out of the house.
Just kidding. I love my sons and wouldn’t trade them for any kind of animal. But pets have distinct advantages over kids. For one thing, they never grow up. Sure, they stop being puppies or kittens, but they never get to the point where they’re telling us that everything we do is wrong. They eat what we give them, sit on our laps and are glad to see us long after our kids are trying to pretend we don’t exist.
So many positive emotional affects come from having a pet. Pet owners tend to be happier, calmer and more hopeful. Many is the time a very depressed client has confided in me that the only thing keeping him from suicide is worry about what would happen to his animals. (Well if that does it, then hooray for Fluffy!) But having pets can also create a lot of problems as well.
First, pets are expensive and people with severe emotional problems are usually not the biggest earners in the world. After a breakdown, they struggle to keep a job and often end up living with others while they try to deal with their disorders. Someone might take YOU in, but not your 14 cats! You can get help with YOUR food needs, but that doesn’t include pet food. Then there’s the vet, grooming, toys, beds.
Because of this, many people choose to live in very unhealthy conditions just to be able to stay with their pets. This is bad for the person and for the animals. None of them get the care they deserve and their circumstances can deteriorate quickly. I still get nightmares from the few episodes of Animal Hoarders I accidently watched. (And then COULDN’T stop watching!)
Even if the physical environment is okay, the emotional environment can be harmful. Many women in abusive relationships stay with their abusers for fear of what might happen to their pets if they leave. Thankfully, domestic violence shelters are beginning to realize this and some are making room for pets are well as kids.
But basically, it is a relief to me when a client tells me about his pets. Even if they can’t talk, they are still a great support system. Come to think of it, maybe they’re a better support system because they DON’T talk. Hmmm…