Pets Strengthen the Marriage Bond

Pets Strengthen the Marriage Bond
Anyone who says childfree people don’t have the capacity to care hasn’t met my friend Susan. She is one of the most caring people I know – it’s just that she doesn’t care much for people. She does care for animals, especially abused and abandoned pets. In fact, she works 7 days a week on their behalf, and on many nights only sleeps a few hours as she manages a shelter, traps feral cats, and is on-call 24/7 rescuing injured animals.

I find many childfree people (not just women) in the animal welfare world. I don’t have any solid statistics to back me up on this, but it seems also that many childfree people are multiple pet owners, and very good ones. It may sound corny, but I sometimes think that Nature, or the Powers-That-Be, dictate that a certain amount of the population don’t breed so their lives can be spent caring for other suffering and parentless creatures.

Of course, there are probably many childfree folks who don’t want pets and want to maintain freedom from dependent creatures of all kinds, and that is just fine. Still, many of the most dedicated and intense volunteers I meet at animal shelters are childfree and I’m grateful that someone cares so much for these lost critters.

My cynical neighbor likes to tell me that nobody can really love an animal – that if we feel love for an animal (other than human) we are just projecting our need for human bonding onto that animal. This is coming from a woman who insists on leaving her poor Husky dog out in a pen in sub-zero degree weather, oblivious to his howls, as she sits cozily by her fireplace at night. I’m not an expert, but I don’t think it takes a neuropsychologist here to detect a connection between this woman’s lack of empathy for her dog and the extreme behavior problems she experiences with her teenage children.

I was one of those non-girly-girls who never wanted to play house with baby dolls. When my little friends started to pull out the dolly dress-up box I opted to head out the door with my dogs and my brothers to play baseball or take a hike. The same went for babysitting. Some of my teenage friends would go ga-ga for a babysitting gig involving infants. I tended to avoid those, preferring the older children I could engage in art projects or games. I didn’t enjoy cuddling with a damp infant, but I could happily snuggle for hours with a warm puppy or kitten.

That’s just the way I was, and am. Many of my friends from the animal rescue community relate similar experiences as kids. Perhaps we are born this way. Perhaps the human need to nurture other species is genetic, as my sister and brother are also childfree pet lovers.

Whatever the reason, we do love them - as dogs, cats, mice, rabbits, snakes, whatever – for their own traits, their own unique personalities. And pets do have individuality. In spite of what my rather heartless neighbor claims is just misplaced childlove - pets have interesting personas.

They keep us entertained, inspired, and exercised. I’ve read statements from various writers claiming that pets don’t bond a married couple like children do. I know my mother-in-law was sure of that – yet, I’ve been married to my husband for more years than I care to admit – and one of the things that kept us together and interested in one another is an intense interest in our pets and in animal rescue. And, my recently divorced friend is very intensely mourning the loss of her dog won in the settlement by her husband. No one can tell her she doesn’t really miss her dog, that she’s just "projecting" that pain of loss of companionship, without risking bodily harm.

And, some solid statistics seem to be emerging from studies in Australia that show pets do improve human health. Pet owners seem to have overall lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, increased mental health, and better connections to the community. I can certainly attest to that. If I don’t take each of my large dogs on a 4-mile forced march each day they will destroy the house. The walking keeps me young, I’m sure, and I know most of the neighbors in a mile radius of my house. I wouldn’t know any of them if I hadn’t met them while out walking the dogs, so I know that community-connection aspect of pet ownership is true. Dogs are great ice-breakers.

Anyway, I’m grateful for the joy, challenge and companionship my pets bring to my life and my marriage. And for all the childfree pet-lovers out there – give your fur, fin, or scale-kid an extra dose of affection this holiday season.

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