Human beings have kept the company of animals since the dawn of civilization. After transitioning away from the primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyle, humans have employed beasts of burden to help them with just about everything: tilling fields for crops, laboring heavy cargo, and even assisting with the hunting of other animals.
Domestic animals still serve these functions for millions of people around the world today. But most of us are more familiar with a more emotional bond with our furry friends. In non-agrarian societies, animals are part of our families. They don’t need to do chores. They don’t need to bring home any income. All they need to do is exist, and they make our lives more fulfilling in the process.
Pet ownership is incredibly common in the United States and the rest of the developed world — and it’s becoming even more popular by the year. According to a 2016 study, nearly 57 percent of all American households had at least one family pet — up from 38 percent in 1982. Considering the flattening birth rate for America’s millennials now coming of age, it has many wondering if cats and dogs are starting to fill that emotional gap.
So, are human families putting pets over people? Is there a difference between “dog people” and “cat people?” We did the research, and learned some pretty surprising things about pet owners around the country…
Our data shows that both dog owners and cat owners tend to take more cell phone pics of their pets than they do of their families — or even themselves. Dog owners appear to take more pictures of things in general — which does lend credence to the idea that cats are just less social. As it turns out, there’s some real science to support this. Unlike dogs — and humans — cats are not social obligate animals. This means they have evolved to be more independent. Remember: to this day, cats haven’t been domesticated the same way dogs have been.
Pet Loving States
The United States is one of the most pet-loving places in the world. The country is surpassed only by Latin America and Russia in terms of how many people own at least one pet. Even so, there are parts of the country that take this appreciation to a whole new level.
Our research shows that residents of New Mexico top the list with the highest average number of pets — four per household — followed by Mississippi with 3.5 and Arkansas with 3. Pets appear to be more sparse in so-called “fly-over” states like Wyoming, Nebraska, and North Dakota.
Many pet owners are, understandably, less than enthused with the idea of waking up in a pile of fur. As it turns out, however, this is the minority of pet owners. According to our respondents, an overwhelming number of pet owners will let their dog or cat sleep next to them in their beds. Only 25 percent said, “no.”
There’s an emotional reason for this. Most pet owners keep an animal in their home because it improves their mood throughout their daily life. Even the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention lists pet ownership as an effective way to help people deal with loneliness and depression.
Angry Pet Owners
Pets, like children, aren’t perfect — and the same can be said for pet owners and parents. In many ways, owning a pet is like raising a child that will never grow up, learn to speak, or feed itself. With that said, there are bound to be frustrating episodes between a pet owner and his or her companion.
Still, striking pets out of anger seems to be incredibly rare. Our research shows that over 92 percent of all respondents have not struck their pets out of rage, while just over 7 percent admitted to doing so.
Not every pet owner is a good pet owner. The ASPCA estimates that 6.5 million companion animals are left in shelters every year, often after being abused. The good news is that this number is declining annually.
What is Your State’s Favorite Pet?
“Cats versus dogs” is a classic debate among pet owners. You know the reputation: dogs will give you more attention, but cats require far less work. So, the better pet is a subjective answer. Our data shows that most Americans are fine with trading more of their time for a companion that will lick their face more. Pet owners in almost every single state prefer dogs to cats.
We can continue the “cat versus dog” debate for the rest of time, but there is a pet that is more popular than both: freshwater fish.
Lost and Found
Losing a pet is traumatizing, and, unfortunately, not uncommon. According to our data, a majority of pet owners say they’ve never lost a bet, but over 27 percent have. Out of our total, almost 12 percent weren’t able to find their pet after it went missing. Our research shows that pets who have been found were missing for an average of over eight days.
Of course, your risk for losing your pet is highly dependent on what kind of animal you adopt. A 2016 study found that some of the dog breeds most likely to run away from their owners include bloodhounds, Anatolian shepherds, and pitbull mixes.
One thing we knew before we conducted our research — which was reinforced afterwards — is that people love pets. Taking care of pets is often harder than it looks. In addition to food and water, cats and dogs alike require affection and exercise. Too many people neglect that last part. The value of having space for a pet to run around or get some fresh air cannot be overstated. One thing is for sure — when you have a dog, your lawn is going to get torn up. That’s just how they are. Luckily, fixing that problem is easier than you think. Visit lawnstarter.com to see for yourself.
All participants were screened using a two-pronged approach: (1) description of selection criteria with a requirement for self-acknowledgment and acceptance, and (2) directly asking each participant to confirm each criterion, namely that they, at one time, had a “cat” or “dog” ” A total of 1,102 attempts were made to take the online study, with 65 eliminated for: (1) not ever owning a “cat” or “dog”, (2) failing captcha, (3) not completing the survey, or (4) a mixture of these. Additionally, 27 response sets were eliminated for having duplicate IP addresses, for a total of 92 eliminations, yielding a completion rate of 91.65%, and a final n = 1,010. This study employed an online survey using a convenience sampling methodology via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, with a subsequent posteriori exploratory, correlational data analysis methodology employed after completion of data scrubbing via Microsoft Excel and data visualization via Tableau.
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