The question in the title is important and interesting. This is not the first page on the subject and it won’t be the last. The table below tells us how 44 pet owners answered the question (the table of course relates to “pets” and therefore concerns cats and dogs but the same underlying principles are in question).
Participants in a study did not wish to talk spontaneously about the emotional support that they might receive in times of stress from their pet. The question, “do you feel supported by your animal in times of stress and sorrow?” was a difficult one for participants to answer.
Sometimes there was embarrassment (sadly- there shouldn’t be) by some of the participants in admitting that their companion animal provided emotional support because they felt ashamed at not having a human from which he or she could obtain support.
The question therefore was put in a different way by the researcher: “some people report that their pet understands their feelings when they are upset or depressed. The pets behave in a special way to comfort them. Do you recognise this?”
Sixty pet owners were questioned and 44 provided an answer. Sixteen participants did not respond because they considered the question was inappropriate or purposeless. As you can see from the table, two of the participants had no experience with the concept of “animal support” while four denied that it could ever happen. People in these two categories I would have thought should not look after a cat or dog. I can’t see the point unless for them the point is simply to decorate the home.
The responses provide an insight into how animals support people, particularly the elderly in times of stress and sorrow. The researcher says that it appears that pets help people to cope with new situations by giving their attention to their human guardian and by listening. Further, they demonstrate affection which is comforting. A companion animal is also comforting by their presence and they act as a distraction.
Companion animals in the 21st-century – whether the animal is a cat or dog or indeed any other pet – are treated as a member of a social network providing emotional support.
Looking at the table, the highest number of responses came from the statement about their pet noticing the owner’s emotions and giving attention to the owner. I’m not completely sure that a companion animal can read a person’s subtle emotional state (they can certainly read obvious signs of emotion such as anger) but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that says they can. It is a tricky area because sometimes people reflect their emotions onto their companion animal. They receive from their companion animal what they wish to receive but this is not to say that pets cannot read emotions. I’m simply discussing alternative scenarios.
The major reason why people keep a companion animal is for companionship. The presence of a cat or dog is enough by itself to provide emotional support. It is said that a cat gives a home a soul. I’m sure many people would agree with that. A cat certainly adds something to the home; giving it emotional warmth which would otherwise be lacking.
For my part, I do receive emotional support from my cat. It is a support which comes from companionship because like most people I treat my cat like a little person. I obviously realise that he is a cat and I look after him as a cat but at an emotional level I treat him as a little person, perhaps a brother or a son. I don’t feel lonely.
Loneliness is a very destructive emotion which can break a person. The presence of a companion animal can remove that and therefore it could be argued that the cat or dog is a vital presence in the lives of many people.
Note: the study comes from: Companion Animals & Us – edited by Anthony L Poderscek, Elizabeth S Paul and James A Serpell.
Please comment. It is nice to hear personal stories and the views of others on topics such as this.