By Langley Cornwell
There is no relationship that equals the attachment we have to our pets. I’m not saying the attachment is better or worse than the attachment we have with humans; I’m just saying we form a bond with the animals in our lives that cannot be duplicated with another human. I can wax on and on about the strength of the connection I feel with my pets, as I’m sure you can too. But have you ever really analyzed the emotional attachment you have with them?
According to a study compiled from the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, 33% of U.S. householders own at least one cat, and 39% own at least one dog. In truth, I thought the numbers would be higher. Even so, most everyone has lived with a pet at some point in their lives and during that time, they’ve certainly formed some type of attachment with the pet.
An article in Psychology Today looks at ‘attachment theory’ and applies that concept to humans and their pets. They say that pets are the perfect object of a human’s attachment because they are affectionate and easily accessible to anyone. As I understand it, there are several types of attachment styles: secure attachment, ambivalent attachment and avoidant attachment. In human-to-human interaction, attachment theory postulates that people adopt a style of relating to the important people in their lives based on their relationship with their primary caregiver when they were a child. What’s interesting is this concept of attachment extends to our pets.
The Psychology Today write-up cites a series of studies conducted by researchers Zilcha-Mano, Mikulincer, and Shaver. In the study, the researchers asked pet owners and previous pet owners a series of yes/no questions from their ‘Pet Attachment Questionnaire.’ They were able to get a variety of responses; out of all the people that answered the questionnaire, three-quarters of the participants had dogs and the rest had cats.
Here is a sampling of the questions:
• I’m worried about what I’ll do if something happens to my pet.
• I feel that my pet doesn’t allow me to get as close as I would like it to
• Without acts of affection from my pet, I feel worthless
• I am worried about being left alone without my pet
• I need a lot of reassurance from my pet that he/she loves me
• Being close to my pet is not important to me
• I prefer not to be too close to my pet
• Often my pet is a nuisance to me
• I am not very attached to my pet
I bet you can determine which style (secure attachment, ambivalent attachment and avoidant attachment) is associated with which question.
Attachment style can vary by attachment objects so you might have one style of attachment to one of your dogs and a different style of attachment to your other dog. Likewise, you can have one style of attachment to one of your cats and a different style of attachment to your other cat or one style of attachment to a particular dog and another style of attachment to a particular cat. The point is, the finer details of your relationship varies per animal.
The thing I liked about researching this topic was the statement that “the attachment we have toward our pets, in and of itself, is an important feature of our psychological life.” The study goes on to say that pet attachment seems to play an important role in overall mental health.
I’m glad the subject has been investigated, but I didn’t need a fancy study to tell me that!
Dog photo by Jim Larson
Cat photo by Sage Ross
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell
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