The stigma of not owning a pet

I confess, I don’t have a pet in my house. Increasingly, I feel I have to defend myself for my non-pet status, or at least fend off well-meaning friends and relatives who clearly believe I am deprived (at best) or depraved (at worst). People assume, because I don’t want a dog, that I “don’t like dogs.”

I love animals, and have had pets (dogs and cats) most of my life, but when our last cat died a few years ago, I vowed to go pet free for the indefinite future. My wife is ambivalent about this, and would love to have a dog or cat, until her emotions calm down and she reasons it out. We are extremely busy, love to travel, and don’t have good outdoor space for a dog. But more and more people we know are getting dogs, and apparently feel it is their duty to convince us to get one, too (cat-owners seem less interested in spreading the joy). We tell them that as soon as I die  my wife will get a dog (on the way home from the Emergency Room, she says), and we have named him or her “Skippy.”

Pets (“animal companions”) do seem to provide people with some health benefits (dogs, for example, take us for walks), and they are great for lonely people and people who like being a caregiver. I am not denying they can be a lot of fun.  Now, 39% of U.S. households own at least one dog (of those, 37% own more than one), and we in the U.S. spend over $43 billion a year on our pets (up from $23 billion in 1998). The average dog-owning household spends $1425 annually (estimated) on food, boarding, vet care, toys, etc. (the comparable figure for cat-owners is $990). See these sites (here and here) for statistical information.

I am interested in what you think. If you have a dog, do you want others to, also? If you are not a pet owner, do you ever feel defensive because of it?

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One Response to “The stigma of not owning a pet”

  1. Joe Average Says:

    I have two cats and a hamster.

    It’s a human trait to think that there is something “wrong” with those who don’t hold the same preferences. It causes trouble and you’d think we’d give it up at some point. :)

    When you wrote, “People assume, because I don’t want a dog, that I ‘don’t like dogs'” it immediately brought to mind what Bastiat wrote in “The Law” (1850):

    As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.

    We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

    That has nothing to do with pet ownership directly, but the phrasing rang a bell… “If I don’t want a dog, then they say I don’t like dogs.” I thought the parallel interesting.

    Anyhow, that’s a bit of a diversion…

    I can’t imagine telling people, “You should have a dog/cat/hamster/whatever” because (1) if the person isn’t really interested in shouldering the commitment, but get a pet because of peer pressure, there’s a good chance the animal will suffer from neglect and (2) I can’t stand people telling ME what to do when it’s just personal preferences. :)

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