Humans and Animals
I'm fascinated with what I've been reading about the human-animal bond and the benefits it brings. Is this new?
People and animals have interacted with each other throughout human history. As long as people lived outside cities, they enjoyed easy, comforting communication with animals and nature. The move to cities intensified dependence on pets for unconditional acceptance and affection to counter the barren environment and often stressful, intense, human interaction. Further, therapeutic effects of bonding have helped people with physical and emotional problems. For example, it has been reported that some autistic children become more verbal and less active in the presence of a non-threatening animal. Nursing home patients perk up with pets that recall a happier time in their lives. Pet owners need to recognize that human-animal bonding requires nurturing. You cannot just tie a dog to the dog house, throw it a bone and expect bonding to occur. At the other extreme, people who treat their pets as surrogate children and overindulge their pet can produce a behavioral problem that is hard to control. This is a particular risk for mothers with empty nests or childless career couples. New parents whose pets have been the center of attention can have stress-related problems like dog aggression or rug-soiling from cats. Instead of isolating the pet, play with the pet, offer treats and positive reinforcement so it doesn't feel neglected. Another side effect of the bond is the grief many people feel when they must part with their pet. In preparing an answer for you, I consulted an animal behavior modification specialist. He noted that children's grief is a special concern particularly if a pet must be euthanized or removed from the home. Dynamics within the family and between the pet and child differ and dictate different solutions. The common goal is to be sensitive to the child who probably cannot understand the purpose of having to remove the animal and may mix up his grief with blame for the parent having to make the decision. In some cases, the solution is another pet -- old enough to be like the lost pet but young enough to be fun and ready for training by its young companion. As you can see, the human-animal bond is complex. It has physical, medical and behavioral effects on individuals within the family. The relationship can be extremely beneficial, but it can have problematic side effects. Most of us are willing to put up with some inconveniences. We also should be alert for serious problems that need correction.