John Bradshaw’s new book, The Animals Among Us: How Pets Make Us Human is going to make the suits in the front offices of the pet food corporations squirm. While it is certain to ruffle some feathers, it’s the most important treatment of our relationships with pets in thirty years. Bradshaw is one of the founders of anthrozoology, the study of human-animal interactions, and he is well-suited to the task of updating readers on the latest developments in our understanding of the human-animal bond.
This book is coming out at a good time. In the last three decades, the number of research articles published on human-animal relationships has jumped from a handful in 1987 to over a 1,000 a year today. Nearly two dozen academic journals are now devoted to the topic, and university centers for the study of human-animal interactions are cropping up worldwide. The media is certainly paying attention. The Washington Post, for example, has a full time reporter on the animal beat.
Scads of animal books are published every year, but this book is unique. First, it provides an accessible overview of the current state of knowledge in anthrozoology by a pioneer in the field. Second, Bradshaw develops a comprehensive theory to account why pet-keeping evolved in our species (and only in our species). Finally, he takes on sacred cows that will even raise the hackles of other researchers. For example, Bradshaw discounts industry and media hype extolling the health benefits of pet-ownership. He writes, “Reliable studies have generally failed to find convincing proof that living with animals makes their owners healthier.”
To whet your appetite, here are 26 tidbits I picked up from The Animals Among Us.
Pets, Culture, and History
Pets, Health, and Human Happiness
- The initial research findings showing that living with pets improves human health have generally not been borne out by recent studies. Yet despite the lack of solid evidence, a recent survey reported that 74 percent of doctors indicated they would “prescribe” a pet to improve their patients’ overall health.
- With one exception, there is little credible evidence that animals make good therapists for the treatment of mental illnesses. (The exception is childhood autism.)
- The medical profession is divided on whether childhood exposure to animals makes kids more susceptible or less susceptible to asthma and allergies.
- Adolph Hitler was so devoted to his dog Blondie that he risk his life by taking her for daily walks toward the end of World War II. (But he also used Blondie to test the effectiveness of his cyanide capsules. She died.)
- The average dog triggers 150 family arguments a year.
How We Think About Animals
The Bond between People and Pets
- When they were asked, “who listens to you best?” 45 percent of adults said “my dog,” while only 30 percent said “my spouse.”
- Women are not necessarily closer to pets than men. Indeed, personality traits are more important than gender when it comes to the human-animal bond.
- While people often say their dogs are their children, different parts of our brains light when we respond to dogs and to kids.
- Children raised in an orphanage who never had any contact with an animal, instinctively treated cats like babies.
- There is no “pet love” gene. Our affection for animals is influenced by the interactions of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of genes.
Source: Photo by Eric Isselee
Oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” has been over-sold as the glue that cements the human-animal bond. In reality, oxytocin studies have produced mixed results, and other neurochemicals such as endorphins and dopamine also play role in our attachment to pets.
- The roughly 3,000 animal hoarders in the United States do tend to fit the “crazy cat lady” stereotype.
- An instinctive desire to stroke fur probably played a major role in the evolution of pet-keeping.
- And finally, if you are looking for a pet, steer clear of pugs. Sometimes their eyeballs fall out.
“So, why then, do we keep animals as companions?” asks Dr. Bradshaw.
You may be surprised by his answers.
~ Master Yoda