When designing programs to fulfill The Animal Welfare Association’s mission of “Caring for Animals… Benefitting People,” I focus on how pets can improve our lives. In my research I have found that, as important as pets are to men and children, they play a special role in the lives of women.
According to a study by UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, there is a psychological relationship between women and their pets. The dog or cat tends to be the anchor of support when family members are not available either physically or emotionally. The study also reveals that women living entirely alone with a pet are significantly less lonely than those living without a pet.
When women are in a crisis situation, their pets can be their only source of comfort and affection. A sad fact is that one of the primary reasons a woman will not leave an abusive situation is out of fear that her pets will be harmed by her abuser if she isn’t there to protect them. Few women’s shelters accept pets and in many cases, women cannot afford to fund outside care for the pet in a safe place.
Many elderly women have refused or delayed going to the hospital out of fear that family members will not provide loving, long-term care for their pets and believe the only alternatives are euthanasia or re-homing—both of which can cause further decline in health.
The bond that women have with their pets can determine where women live and what cars they drive. Women have chosen to move to homes based on the needs of their pets. When my 100 lb. dog Zeek arrived, I turned to my husband and said, “I need an SUV to lug him around because we can’t put a dog in your car!”
When my cousin was looking for her next house I peeked at her Wish List to read: “#4: an enclosed yard for Maddie…#6: kitchen space for Maddie’s bowls.” All I could do was smile. Maddie’s needs outranked her desire for a fireplace and shade trees!
Once upon a time, dogs and cats merely filled utilitarian roles. But over the past 40 years, they’ve escaped the barnyards and moved into our backyards. They are quickly becoming the Number One living creature we sleep with (aside from other humans), and are also becoming “humanized” (have you been to PetSmart’s clothing section lately?)
Yes, there are challenges, but the benefits for women (companionship, exercise, socialization and joy) would seem to strongly outweigh them!
We are a social, loving species. As we move further away from family, our family size is shrinking. Many of our neighbors are very busy and unknown to us. Our Internet friends are now listed as being “emotionally closer to us than our families”. It is no wonder that our pet families are becoming more essential to our well-being.
The Animal Welfare Association (AWA) is a private shelter in Voorhees, NJ that has provided animal sheltering, adoption and affordable veterinary care to South Jersey communities since 1949. Last year, over 2,000 dogs, cats and rabbits found their next home through the work of AWA. The Clinic sterilized 8,500 pets from the public, and provided basic wellness care to 3,000 pets. AWA is a charity and all funding comes from donations. Please visit us at www.awanj.org