It seems like most people have or at some point have had pets in their lives. In addition to dogs and cats, kids may enjoy turtles, snakes, birds, guinea pigs, hamsters, iguanas and various other assorted creatures. Around the farm, many people have had pet chickens, goats, pigs, sheep or other farm animals. And then, of course, there are horses. Many women seem to especially love horses, whether they have ever had one or could afford one. So, what is it with pets? Why do we gravitate towards animals and do so at various life stages?
Surveys indicate that somewhere between 62% and 68% of US households own at least one pet. Among older adults the Harris poll shows that 59% of Baby Boomers (ages 50-68) and 41% of Matures (ages 69+) own pets. This is a significant number of older pet owners. Pets can be so much trouble, we probably wonder why we keep them at times. They have no idea what we put up with for them! Of course, they put up with us as well. Statistics from a variety of surveys also indicate that pets are becoming an increasing factor in the family budget.
Those who don’t have pets usually choose not to have them for one of several reasons. They may not have been raised with animals in the home, they may be allergic, they may not feel they have the money to keep an animal properly or the time to devote to them, they may live in a setting that doesn’t allow them to have pets or they simply may not want one. All those reasons are valid. But for those of us who do love and want our animals, there can be a lot of benefits, including benefits for our physical and mental health.
Multiple studies show that pets provide older people with much-needed companionship. Just the feeling of sharing one’s home and life with another living being can be a comfort to many people. Our pets need us and we need them. Sometimes the sense of responsibility we have for our animal friends are what keep us feeling engaged with life or simply keep us going. They can even help our social lives. Pets are great ice-breakers and conversation starters for connecting with other people. Not everyone needs to have a pet nor should everyone have a pet, but most who do feels that their pet enriches their life. Let’s talk a little bit about our own personal experiences with pets.
- Have you been a “pet person” or a “non-pet person” over the course of your life? If you are a pet person, what pets have you had over the years and which have you enjoyed the most?
- Are pets part of your life now? If so, how do you feel about the responsibilities and hassles of pet ownership in relation to the rewards and fulfillment of having an animal companion?
- What have your pets offered you? Has their importance increased or decreased as you have become older?
- If your living situation makes it difficult or impossible to have a pet, do you have ways of getting your furry animal fix outside of living with a pet of your own?