Anthropomorphism of the Family Pet

Cat in a doll stroller

Anthropomorphism is the humanization of the non-human, and more people are treating their pets as part of the family. The pet industry is growing in leaps and bounds, the number of pet-owning Americans continues to rise and the number of vets is on the rise too. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, today’s pet owners view themselves as their pets’ parents: 83% call themselves “Mommy” or “Daddy” (compared with just 55% who did so in 1995); 68% travel with their pet (vs. 58%); 66% specially prepare foods for their pet (vs. 48%); and 59% celebrate their pet’s birthday (vs. 50% in 1995).

Although pets cannot legally inherit in wills, 30% of the nation’s 64 million pet owners mention animals in their wills anyway. In eight states it is possible to create a care-taking trust for an animal. A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to make these trusts legal nationwide.

Pet names are also indicative of this trend. More and more pet owners are giving their pets human names. The most popular dog name for males is Max, while the most popular female names are Maggie and Molly.

Sam Gosling, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, points out that “”Animals are surrogates for children and appeal to our predisposition to nurture. We’ve even selectively bred dogs to make them more like children—to have big eyes and small noses, to be attuned to our emotions and to give unconditional love.”

I don’t entirely agree with Dr. Gosling on the selective breeding of dogs to look and act like children. Dogs were bred for the particular jobs they do and to meet standards set by clubs. While there are those that look upon their pets as surrogates for children, most of us feel that owning a pet brings with it the responsibilities of a family member along with the extra added unconditional love they give us.

Treating an animal as a family member can be a positive thing for both humans and pets. However, it is important for pet owners to be aware that pets don’t always behave in the same manner as children although they act like 2 and 3 year olds. Most pet owners are aware of their pets needs and wants. Some people believe that dogs leave messes because they are angry, although this is a house-training issue and not an emotional one. Although some may disagree, pet owners have come to realize that a diet consisting of the proper “people food” is actually much better for their pets than most commercially made foods. Just keep in mind that certain foods can be poisonous to our pets.

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