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by Jodi Gillich

Photo by Jodi Gillich 

Do you buy your pet a birthday present?  Do you  converse  with your pet?  Do you play games with your pet?  If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, odds are you feel your pet is more than just an animal.

Treating pets as family members seems to be a new trend, said Brian Sveinson, a psychologist and head of counseling services at the U of R.  

“When you watch old movies, it seemed like there was a different relationship (with pets).”

Pets used to have their place in the family, but there wasn’t so much focus on the pet itself, said Sveinson.

 Elaine Hackel has two male smokey-grey cats, Micke and Maxie. “They are part of the family, they’re my family. I call them my boys like they’re my children, which I kind of consider that they are,” she said.

Over half of Canadians had a household pet in 2002, according to a  survey of 1,503 Canadians conducted by Canadian Press/Leger Marketing,

“Pets really do increase the quality of life for a great many people,” said Sveinson.

“Pets are just a way to get your mind off the things that are tough - a stressful day or whatever.  They’re always so glad to see you, even if you’ve been out of the house for an hour,” said Hackel.  

Sveinson said he thinks people gravitate toward pets because our society has made us more isolated.

“Our lives have become busier and more focused on survival and maintaining a certain standard of living.”

This fast-paced lifestyle has caused us to become disengaged from one another and replace human contact with pets, he said.  People naturally want relationships, and pets provide a place for people to place their caring.

“It’s almost as if nobody likes you or loves you, at least your pet does,” agreed Hackel.

A 2005 American Pet Association poll of 19,211 pet owners revealed that more than half of American dog owners feel more attached to their dog than to at least one other human being.

Sveinson noted that a relationship with a pet is kinder, safer and easier than human relations.

“There is no thought that your cat or dog or goldfish will reject you, that they will move out the next day, or that you will have a blistering fight with them over who is going to do the dishes.”

“(Pets) accept you for who you are, and I guess you do the same for them,” said Hackel.

“They entertain you, they give you a purpose for doing what you need to do, and sometimes they just give you a good laugh when you need it,” she said.

The American Pet Association poll indicated that 83 per cent of dog owners and 84 per cent of cat owners have a pet for companionship, and 90 per cent of dog owners and 93 per cent of cat owners have pets in order to have a playmate. 

Sveinson cautions that people can go overboard when it comes to their pets.

Examples of this tendency include adorning pets with diamond collars and showering them with over-the-top gifts.

He is also concerned that while pets are lavishly decorated and adored, other humans are ignored.

Human relationships are the most powerful and healing parts of our lives, and we need to find ways to get out and be more involved, he said. 

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