As a long time pet owner and veterinarian, thinking about the relationships humans have with animals is still fascinating and for me, difficult to put into words. The most common descriptor used to describe this phenomenon is the human-animal bond. It is a long used term but one I've never been terribly fond of for some reason. I'm not sure why but maybe it isn't personal or descriptive enough to describe this powerful union that humans have with animals. There are many synonyms one could use such as relationship, chain, liaison, connection, alliance and so on. Call it what you want, a force of some kind exists that connects us with our four legged counterparts. And for every bond or relationship that has existed and will, they will all be viewed differently from the humans perspective. There are those that consider their pets their children. There are those that consider them a companion/friend and sadly there are still those that consider them "just an animal". Regardless of how they are viewed by humans, there will always exist an association of some sort.
I've thought long and hard on how I view the connection I have with my animals. I do not consider them children like many people do. Not that there is anything wrong with this way of thinking, as this is very common theme when talking to pet owners about their animals. It is based on the individual relationship and how the humans choose to describe it. Today, this is probably the most common answer one would get if they were to poll a group of pet owners on this topic. Now, that doesn't mean my animals don't have everything and more to lead a happy, enriched, safe and healthy life in our home. The amount of money and the amount of time spent with my animals is crazy but I can't imagine doing anything but. They are companions who enrich our lives and make us happier and healthier, therefore they deserve everything offered to them. For me the connection is complex and difficult to describe. They enter our lives and the fibers of our being become intertwined and the connection is born. Having them in my life is like having all my appendages, life goes on unnoticed. But without one, you wouldn't function the same. Life would forever be changed. Not having these beings in my life, would be like not having my right hand. My life would not be the same. There are many days I would rather spend time with animals than most people. They are forgiving, don't talk back and are non-judgemental. My cats helped me survive graduating vet school and moving to a new city where I knew no one. They were there when I needed them and provided me never ending companionship during some lonely days. Aside from everyday companionship, there have been several research studies completed to show that animals improve health. In particular stress reduction. Anecdotally speaking, it works for me. The first thing I do when coming home from a day's work is to spend some time with the cats. In ten minutes time I have peeled off several layers of stress that I accumulated during the work day.
I don't believe that animals replace the relationships we have with other people. Rather, they greatly enhance our lives and create synergy in our interpersonal relationships. Animals are an integral part of our lives and for most of us, they are deeply embedded. To non-animal people reading this, it probably sounds hokey. Maybe, this will inspire you to get a pet and experience it for yourselves. It might change your life and without a doubt, for the better.