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What Does the Pet Get?

Researchers examine the relationship between attachment to pets and their care

Everyone has heard of the health advantages pet owners enjoy—lower blood pressure is just one example. But the authors of a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (Vol. 8, No. 1, 2005) sought to discover the opposite: how pets benefit from the human-animal bond.

In “What’s in it for the Companion Animal? Pet Attachment and College Students’ Behavior Toward Pets,” authors Elsie Shore, Deanna Douglas, and Michelle Riley of Wichita State University report their attempts to categorize pet owner behaviors and examine the usefulness of measuring owner/pet attachment.

Researchers distributed more than 500 surveys to Wichita State students who lived with a cat or dog. The authors noted that the university has a large number of “nontraditional” students; the average age of respondents, which ranged from 16 to 60, was 25.6.

Respondents answered questions about four categories of pet care, ranging from the basics to the extras: “essential care,” “standard care,” “enriched care,” and “luxury care.”

In what might come as a surprise, the authors wrote that they did not find a strong relationship between attachment and pet owner behaviors: “Respondents who indicated they were not very attached to the target pet were as likely to provide basic care, and a number of other beneficial attentions, as were moderately or highly attached pet owners.” But pet owners who rated their attachment at higher levels were more likely to provide their pets “a richer environment,” they wrote.

The authors suggest that these study results could be encouraging to animal shelter staff placing pets in new homes, since the research indicated that low attachment levels did not translate to lesser standards of care.


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