Pet Raising Has an Evolutionary Explanation

According to experts, pet rearing provides an avenue to satisfy the biological and emotional need for bonding

© Annette Birkenfeld
According to experts, pet rearing provides an avenue to satisfy the biological and emotional need for bonding

You have probably noticed that many people now treat their pets as if they were children, investing in them a lot of time, attention and, above all, money. And recent research published in the Sage Journal argues that the stage is set for us to actively engage with pets rather than children because fertility rates are low and people gain more flexibility in choosing how to live their lives. .

Faced with this situation, and to answer the question: “Are people who choose pets instead of children really parents to their pets?” Shelly Volsche, assistant professor of anthropology at Boise State University (USA) and author of the study, she turned to the evolution of fatherhood and the care of animals.

Volsche set out to investigate alloparenting – a logic by which humans are cooperative breeders and help care for offspring that are not theirs – to explain the raising of pets.

“Alloparentality of companion animals may offer a way to meet the evolved need for parenting while reducing the investment of time, money and emotional energy compared to parenting,” she wrote in the study.

To better understand this phenomenon, the author launched an online survey of more than 900 people, which produced interesting results.

For example, people who were not parents reported a higher rate of general attachment to their animals and were also more likely to use familiar terms such as “father”, “son”, “children” and “guardians” when referring to their relationships with pets.

Volsche concluded that the difference between fathers and non-fathers “suggests that pet parenting is really pet parenting,” since both the practice of creating children and that of pets fulfill the same evolved role of caring, teaching, and to love a sentient other.

“We are a protective species by nature, so we look for connections and links, even with other species.”

Shelly Volsche, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Boise State University, USA

Pet food and treats: $ 42 billion

Over-the-counter supplies, live animals and drugs: $ 22.1 billion

Veterinary care and product sales: $ 31.4 billion

Other services: $ 8.1 billion

(Other services include accommodation, hairdressing, insurance, training, pet care and walking and all services other than veterinary care)

Source: American Pet Products Association

Shelly Volsche,

Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at Boise State University, USA.

Q: What led you to study pet rearing?

– I myself am the mother of a pet, and I think researchers are often attracted to issues that affect them in some way. I have also been a professional dog training and behavior advisor. This is what led me to wonder how the different purposes, ethics, and perceptions of the human-pet relationship lead to vastly different lived experiences for everyone involved.

Q: What does it mean that more and more people are investing so much in their pets?

– The means and paths to a full life are changing. This means that the model of graduating, getting married, and having children is no longer the only path to happiness.

Q: Can this kind of animal care be considered as parenting?

– Of course. In the evolution of human fatherhood, there is a strong argument that we are evolving towards alloparentality, that is, that individuals other than the biological parents take care of the offspring. This provides a natural space in which we can breed other species. Many pet parents answer questions about budgeting for medical care, food, and other resources in much the same way as parents of human children. We see how older dogs are trained to ride in a stroller when they can no longer walk as much, how cats are trained to ride in the car and help run errands, and how people stay home and not goes to work or social gatherings to care for sick pets. The difference is in the details, but breeding is breeding, and breeding can be done with any animal.

Q: Why do people choose to raise pets instead of children?

– There are many reasons. Some simply prefer cats and dogs to children. Others have waited until old enough to feel that the opportunity to have children has passed. Others realize that the idea of ​​”having it all” is a mere fantasy. And even more do so because, in the long run, pets leave a much smaller carbon footprint than a child’s.

Q: How do people meet the evolved need to care, teach, and love through pets?

– A growing number of companion animal parents are spending time getting to know their pets and learning about the specific needs and abilities of each species. This leads to cats being leashed so they can safely explore the outdoors for all. Dog parents take into account their dogs’ innate need to forage and sniff during walks, so it’s more about negotiating a relationship and teaching than dominating or controlling. Parents of pets read the web pages, watch the videos, attend the workshops, and buy the books that help them learn to teach and love their companions better, much like what parents do when a new baby is in. path.

This provides a way to satisfy the biological and emotional need for bonding. To nurture, teach, embrace, explore and care, for which we have evolved.

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