April is a crowded month for national days in honor of pets and humans in various combinations, including Pet Day, Kids and Pets Day, and Pet Parents Day. Put them all together, and the emphasis is clearly on humans as parents and pets as fur kids.
Especially in the last few years, these relationships have become even more prominent, particularly in the United States.
Once upon a time in America, the expectation was that almost everyone would get married, move into the proverbial house with the white picket fence, have an average of two and a half children, and live happily ever after.
All right, that was probably never true of absolutely everyone, but it certainly was the definition of the American Dream for a while. And face it, kids are kind of necessary to keep our species going, but parenthood is not for everyone. The most recent Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau showed the number of childless households has been going up, and it was around 57% at the time of that survey, including not only people who never married, but couples who were happily married.
A lot of that childlessness was by choice.
No rug-rats, no regrets
People who’d been married for decades and had chosen to never have children don’t seem to regret the decision, either, at least according to one anecdotal Reddit survey reported by Bored Panda.
But there’s another thing people don’t regret, and that’s having fur kids. In the U.S., the number of households with a pet of any kind dwarves the number of those with human children: 67% of American homes have at least one pet,
By sheer numbers, fresh-water fish are actually the most numerous pets, since people tend to have about dozen of those at a time, but when it comes to total households, then dogs and cats dominate, with 53% of households having on average one dog and 35.7% of households with an average of two cats each.
Naturally, 95% of those households say that they absolutely consider their fur babies to be a member of the family. What they may not realize, though, is that being a pet parent brings many benefits, some of them not obvious at all, and it’s actually a very good choice because of those benefits.
Having fur babies instead of the human kind costs a lot less, after all, and you avoid things like being kept up all night the first couple of years, having to change diapers, dealing with the “terrible twos,” navigating schooling and discipline and whatever unexpected issues might come up, and then often watching them turn on you as soon as they become teenagers.
If you do have kids and pets, though, the latter can actually help a lot with the former. Many dogs have a great instinct for babysitting kids and keeping them out of trouble, and pets in general can teach children a lot about responsibility.
In fact, pets can teach children a whole range of emotional intelligence skills, like trust, compassion, empathy, self-esteem, and more, and our pets do it instinctually.
What’s not to love about that? But they bring even more benefits to the adults in the household.
The real benefits of being a pet parent
Simply put, being a pet parent is good for your well-being, not just in terms of health, but also emotionally, financially, and socially. For starters, having a dog will help you to get outside and get exercise on a daily basis.
As for your emotional health, pets can also prevent loneliness, anxiety, and depression, especially for people who live alone. They can provide companionship, and the act of physically stroking a petting a dog or cat reduces stress. Playing with a cat or dog releases serotonin and dopamine, which have calming effects.
But that’s not all. Pets can greatly improve your social life, with the daily dog walk helping you to meet and get to know your neighbors. If you’re single, pets are also a great way to meet like-minded singles at dog parks and pet daycares.
Beyond that, you may develop an interest in entering your dog or cat in various shows, or starting obedience classes or agility training — and yes, both of these exist for dog obedience and agility, as well feline versions of the same.
Your pets can save you money
Finally, there are the financial benefits of pets. If you only have fur kids, then you are already saving a fortune by not having human children — they’re cheaper all around, and you’ll never have to mortgage the house to send them off to college.
And if you have both kinds of kids, you still save with pets included. A big part of that comes from the health benefits — fewer health problems, fewer doctor visits, and fewer medications to take, all of which keep more money in your pocket over time.
Plus, when you’d finally otherwise hit empty-nest syndrome when the human kids leave, you don’t have to if you still have your fur-kids to take care of all the mental health things they’re so good at helping with.
You can save on that gym membership if you exercise with the dog instead, and if you feel better about yourself, you’ll tend to spend less money, which is often a coping mechanism for depression. Don’t forget to get all of your pets their own health insurance, though. That can be a huge cost-saver in the long run.
With a dog, especially one with a big, scary bark, you also have a built-in home security system that can alert you to anything lurking outside with much more accuracy than any kind of passive system. And while cats are not traditionally guard animals (except against rodents), you might be able to train yours to go all Home Alone on any uninvited interlopers as well.
Your pets were celebrating you all along
Most pet parents were probably being completely selfless when they chose to adopt their four-legged family members, and we salute you all for that very loving, giving gesture. But you can probably see now that your fur kids were paying you back all along with their own unconditional love and sheer joy at being in your presence.
Because you take care of them, they’ve been taking care of you. You just may not have noticed because they prefer to do a lot of the work in secret because they don’t even know they’re doing it, so they thank you for your kindness instead.
But now that you know what they’re doing for you, give your fur kids a big hug and a thank you and maybe a nice new, comfy bed.
Meanwhile, the rest of us thank you in honor of National Pet Parents Day and for your hard but very valuable work as, well, the parents of pets.
You’re helping to make the world better one paw at a time.
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