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Pets as kin. Lazy Trout Discussion Group

derek tatton
26 March 2009

Pets as Kin
ODD Circle   Tue  24th Mar 09   at The Blue Mugge Pub

Details at www.oddc.org.uk  

Notes using the BBC radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed  April 2008.

Laurie Taylor interviewed sociologist Prof. Nickie Charles,  co-author of a paper
My Family and other Animals:  Pets as Kin.

1    Researchers looking into people’s support groups and family networks were surprised to find that people kept mentioning their pets:   23% put their pets as part of the network of ‘people’ who helped them out…

2.   When  asked as part of the survey  ‘who counted as family’  one respondent,  characteristically,  replied:  ‘We’ve a daughter and son  - and our dog, of course’ (with an embarrassed laugh).   Laurie followed through on this:   questions regarding  ambivalence about relationships ‘beyond the species’…    Then asking about concerns re. anthropomorphism.   Dangers of being “…cute,  twee, and sentimental.”   Then re. the research on pets, he asked  “Is there a prejudice against this kind of study?”

3.   Also, in the programme:   emotional bonds with pets leading to grieving;
Pets as substitutes for children; ‘…not human…but occupy space within social networks’;  pets assisting human contact and relationships -  someone says ‘hello’ to Rover first and then…;
“I’m a cat person too…”
Pets as barriers:  ‘we’re not going round there again, because of their wretched dog…’;   
A British history and culture phenomenon?    Researcher found is same survey that minority ethnic groups did not have any pets…

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Other issues:

4.   What do we know about the history of pets, across a range of countries and cultures?

5.   Economics:   the pet-food industry;   the cost of keeping pets -  vets. and insurance.

6.   The RSPCA  - huge sums bequested to animal charities.  Positive, or out of proportion?  Neglect and cruelty problems.

7.   Pets > human health and well-being.   Stroking cats and dogs is good for the heart, apparently.   Pets and companionship for the old and lonely…

8.   Phobias:  fears about animals are not irrational -  horrendous examples of pet dogs mauling children to death….   Legal issues: rights and responsibilities.

9.   The value of pets to children.   Animals and pets in literature, films, cartoons and art.

10.   Changes in attitude -  we humans, the more we learn, are steadily getting closer to our animal relatives.  Pets as kin:  they are smarter, more beneficial generally than people used to think.   ‘Intuitive’ dogs aiding early detection of cancer in humans, for example.

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