Is this about pets or people? Is there an emotional reason that an individual or a couple starts with one pet and ends up with many more?
When I have raised these questions with pet owners and pet professionals, the reasons given are as complex as the people and pets involved. Overall, however, they reflect the reciprocal mix of needs, emotions and love inherent in the unique exchange that people and pets share.
It Starts With the Pets
Many people start adding an additional pet as a companion to the first. As one owner said “It broke our hearts to leave Callie alone all day so we got a second dog to keep her company.”
While many will own that they may be projecting their human fear of loneliness – the reality is that most pets do enjoy the company of other pets and owners are delighted to see dogs play together, cats scheme together, everyone fight over food and then curl up and sleep together!
One owner who lived with dogs his whole life described that he always had two dogs. He always had a puppy with an older dog both to enliven the older dog (which it inevitably did) as well as to reduce his own dread of loss.
As in any loving relationship there is the reciprocal pleasure of giving and getting when you provide something that makes your beloved pet happy.
It Inevitably Involves the People
A friend who recently lost one of her two nine year old wire haired terriers told me that she and her husband Jim went to the breeder to pick out a new little companion puppy for Lulu (the nine year old). Delighted, they found a precious little female. Just before finalizing the decision, my friend stepped out to use the Ladies’ Room and on returning found Jack holding two little puppies.
- “Jack what are you doing?”
- “I’m not leaving without this little guy.”
- “Jack that means three dogs – I only has two arms.”
- “I’m retired. I need another male in the house.”
They call the two new additions, Zoe and Jesse James – their twins.
As implied above, besides finding a companion for a pet, additional pets are often chosen for personal bonding. Both pets and people want a favorite to love that belongs to them in a special way. Scarlett, a pet owner shared that they adopted a cat for him and a dog for her, another dog to keep her dog company and eventually a cat for each of the children!
Ownership can become a little like a blended family when a couple joins forces and brings along their pets. In many cases it bonds the couple in terms of their mutual love of pets but it can take patience, small steps, coaching about handling their pets and acceptance of the other’s pet before the partners and pets become a big happy family.
This can also be true of blending children with pets. According to Chris Hamer, author of Parenting with Pets, strategies and steps can facilitate children’s successful ownership of pets.
- Many individuals and couples who have acquired more than one dog (as my friends above) freely acknowledge that they love their pets like children and they treasure that opportunity.
- More than one woman has described that she debated adopting children or did not have the option to have a child and is grateful to have pets as living creatures that she can nurture and who depend on her for their well being.
- Over and over people report with delight that “The pets have become our children– cuddling, making us laugh, lighting up our life.”
- The reference to pets as children seems to me only problematic if it creates an unrealistic demand on the pets or the owners that curtails their freedom and natural functioning. If it implies love and care it seems to benefit both.
- On hearing the amazing stories of people who over time have rescued three dogs, eleven cats, older animals, abandoned animals etc.,(almost always more than one ) it has occurred to me that the term “ rescue animals” has a dual meaning as these little creatures are not only saved – they rescue those who save them.
- Couples tell stories of one bringing the other to a shelter and the hesitant one falling in love with kittens and dogs that need a home in a way that changes both of their lives.
- Individuals report that the sense of mastery of helping, bonding and healing a rescue pet is a healing experience for them. It lifts mood, shifts life expectations and fosters hope. Many folks become involved in working in shelters or rescuing animals as part of their lifestyle.
Whether owners have acquired their multiple pets from breeders or shelters, few consider pets as mere collectibles. Rather, one of the reasons that many give for their multiple pets is a true appreciation of each pet as unique with an acceptance of their different personalities, looks, temperaments, and responses.
One newly married couple choose a pet to love as part of their relationship. Chosen with a breeder, this precious little dog was smarter than most and had the personality, they claimed, of a cat – very independent. When a year later they found an abandoned dog at a job site and took him home – he was as dependent and needy as she was cool and aloof but the love and the demands expanded exponentially and everyone’s life changed. Given no hotels would take their rescue dog – they gave up their careers and now travel with their two pets for a new business that locates and lists pet friendly hotels.
Pet Siblings like the two described above are another bonus that owners of multiple pets describe. Many owners have shared stories of the way in which their multiple pets – much like siblings- may fuss and bark and even fight at home, but when in the company of outside pets will go to startling lengths to protect each other. It seems evidence of the pet to pet bond that the care and love of their owners have made possible.
Pet Hoarding vs. Multiple Pets
According to Dr. Mary Lou Randour, Director of the Animal Cruelty and Fighting Campaign of the Humane Society, the difference between having multiple pets and pet hoarding is that pet hoarding is destructive to pets and pet owners.
It is increasingly recognized and reported as a health threat to pets as well as people in the surrounding community. It reflects the disturbed and tragic distortion of nurturing pets by gathering sometimes up to a hundred pets in conditions of neglect and confinement. Those persons who hoard animals tend to have psychological needs that override reality in a dangerous way to themselves and pets.
The situation of pet hoarding is vastly different from a home of multiple pets that are loved and cared for and for whom the relationship of pet and pet owner is beneficial to all.
Three Dog Night
I received an email from a friend who is bravely fighting illness. This winter in Michigan he reports that he and his wife really know the meaning of a “three dog night” as the temperatures dropped and they found themselves in bed with their three big dogs at their feet. Describing how one of their dogs was trying to inch up between them, he said he had to laugh with the joy and warmth these pets continue to give.
There are many good people with very good reasons for loving many pets.
( Thanks to Victoria Gloster, husband and pets pictured above)