Childhood Pets Make Lasting Impact on Our Lives

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American Humane Association Survey “People, Pets and the World We Share” Reveals Extraordinary Bond Between People And Their Pets

Grief of Losing Childhood Pets Carries Over into Adulthood, Affects Future Pet Ownership

A dramatic new survey released today by American Humane Association reveals the most compelling evidence to date of the vital and extraordinary bond between people and their pets, particularly between children and the animals they grew up with.  Indeed, four in 10 individuals say that the loss of a childhood pet from injury, disease or old age continues to affect them as adults. And, an even greater number of adults (44.4%) note that they are still affected by a pet who was given away, ran away or had an uncertain disposition.

These were the major findings of “People, Pets and the World We Share,” a survey conducted by American Humane Association’s Animal Welfare Research Institute to examine the lasting impact a pet has on a child and the remarkable bond and loyalty they share.  Based on an email survey sent to its nationwide database of supporters and Facebook followers, respondents were asked to remember one animal from their childhood in answering the questions.

Dogs were by far the most popular childhood pet remembered, accounting for over 70 percent of responses.  Cats were second at 23.8%, with the remaining including a myriad of animals including horses, rabbits and hamsters.  93.2% respondents were women, 44.8% were 30-49 years old, 43.2% over 50 with 12% under the age of 30.

“Experiences with a childhood pet remain throughout a person’s lifetime and showcase the transformative power of the human-animal bond and the amazing role that animals play in the lives of children,” says Dr. Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of American Humane Association.  “Animals in our lives help to create the social network that is a cornerstone of creating humane communities. As the nation’s first humane organization, our unique dual mission is to improve the welfare, wellness and well-being of both children and animals. We are pleased to share the results of this survey as an important step for future work to assess and understand the world of people, pets and the inextricable link we share.”

Overcoming Grief Important Factor in Future Pet Ownership, Reducing Shelter Numbers

The survey backed the recent findings in a pet ownership study released earlier this year by American Humane Association and PetSmart Charities.  In Phase One of the “Keeping Pets (Dogs and Cats) in Homes Retention Study,” interviews with more than 1,000 previous pet owners revealed that lasting grief over the loss of a previous pet was a significant obstacle towards owning a new pet.   Highlighting the emotional intricacies of the human-animal bond, one in five (20%) of previous dog owners and one in six (17%) of previous cat owners cited the loss of a beloved dog or cat as a reason they chose not to have another.  Helping people to overcome their reluctance to own another pet in adulthood is vital to decreasing the three to four million adoptable animals who are being euthanized in our nation’s shelters.

For many children, the passing of an animal might be their first experience dealing with the death of a member of their family.  Respondents were encouraged to provide comments about the animal they selected for the survey, and their emotional stories illustrate the lasting impact and irreplaceable bond they shared with their beloved pets.

Also illuminating is how parents of the respondents were remembered depending on the parents’ involvement with the loss of a pet.  Some comments speak to a parent’s role in nurturing the human-animal bond, and a child’s ongoing feelings of fondness toward their parents as the result, while others express bitterness toward a parent that gave away a pet without their child’s knowledge.

A sampling of these comments follows:

“….I was only five when we had to euthanize [our pet] due to cancer.  My parents did note tell me until they brought him home to bury in our backyard.  I can still remember sitting there bawling.  That was 36 years ago.”

“… I was a lonely little girl, living with my father as my parents fought over my custody. This little dog was ALL I had….. She was taken away from me, I never was told where to and I’ve never forgotten her… it was traumatic.”

 ” … I remember the details very clearly of his sudden illness, going to the vet, him being euthanized, and bringing him home to be buried…. I’ve always been thankful to my parents that the situation was handled with grace and dignity for our beloved Barney…”

“…To me, losing a pet is no different that losing a relative or friend.  They become a part of your family, and although they can’t communicate in forms of human language, the love and the bond that is created cannot be denied.  I’ve had to deal with the loss of two pets in my life and just like the death of a loved one, I grieved and still think about the time we had [together] often….”

“…Caring for a pet showed me the power of compassion and unconditional love…”

“… Fuzzy was my best friend, my confidant and kid all rolled into one.  She helped me grow up and never feel alone…. I love and miss her greatly to this day…”

“… My dog Stormy was there when I was brought home from the hospital and was by my side from that day on.  He was my best friend, my protector, my playmate and my confidant.  He died when I was 11 and my memories of him have never, and will never, die….”

“…my dog disappeared and I spent months searching for him.  I still have his picture to this day and am still haunted [by his loss] He was devoted to me and me to him…”

“I know it might sound strange but I find it harder to see an animal pass away than a human.”

“…Domino wasn’t just a pet, he was my best friend and every time I was sick, he stayed with me…if I had a [epileptic] seizure he stayed with me and then follow me around the house to be sure I was safe.  He meant the world to me and nobody could ever replace him or what he meant to me.  He was my rock for 18 years and I was his and I will never forget him.”  

“…having a pet as a child and being given the responsibility of caring for a creature that was dependent on its humans left me with a lifelong love of all animals and sympathy for those that have been neglected or abused…”

To see the full study, presented in a clear and readable format, please go to:

Source:  American Humane Association

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