Last week, I lost my best friend. She was 22 years old.
Mow Mow wasn’t my human friend; she was my cat. But like 76% of cat owners, I considered her to be family. To say I miss her terribly doesn’t even begin to describe my sadness.
As it turns out, fellow fur lovers always seem to understand the gravity of my loss. Whether they’ve had a cat, dog, hamster or horse, they empathize greatly and talk lovingly about their lost companion. It seems that even with the heartache of eventually losing them, we can’t help but feel thankful for having them. Perhaps it’s because it turns out our animal friends are helping us to live longer, happier lives.
The health benefits to humans in befriending the fuzzy and feathered are well established. Studies show the benefits of pet ownership generally include lower stress, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improved mental health, reduced loneliness, better sleep and an overall correlation of longer lifespans by as much as 24%. These benefits are particularly true for more vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly and those with anxiety, depression, ADHD and more.
This got me thinking. While losing my cat was devastating, there’s no doubt she enhanced my life. I’ll likely adopt another pet when the time is right for this reason. But given so much evidence of their good, why do some people opt out of having pets? Do non-pet owners wish they could have a furry companion, but can’t?
Perhaps it boils down to cost. Pets aren’t cheap, and in recent years they’re only getting more expensive. A recent survey of dog owners found that 91% of people with dogs now experience financial stress, with 66% cutting back on personal expenses or borrowing money to cover animal care costs. Even worse, 47% said they’d gone into debt for their dog after expenses that most commonly ranged from $51 to $500 per month.
One look at today’s price hikes and it makes sense why folks are struggling. Pet food prices have jumped 25% since 2020. Veterinary care has increased by 11% in just one year. Add to this that pet-sitting rates and general housing of all kinds are now off the charts, and people who work outside of the home, travel or who can’t afford a pet-friendly dwelling are suddenly out of luck.
Given the health benefits of pets, these trends worry me. An estimated 66% of American households currently own a pet, and Colorado ranks among the highest pet-friendly states. Yet pet ownership already trends more white and wealthy, and rising costs are only likely to exacerbate these discrepancies. If costs keep going up for pet care and in general, how many fewer people will have access to the benefits of having animals?
I also worry that popular trends of designer dogs and cats — such as the Golden Doodle craze among affluent neighbors — will only serve to further increase pet costs and even commercialize pets as luxury items and status symbols. Sure, these animals are cute, but most animals are. I adopted my cat from the shelter and she was the sweetest, most loving kitty ever. Are we really above adopting animals now?
I don’t have a lot of answers to these questions, but as I remember how much Mow Mow meant to me, I can’t help but wonder about the impacts of our choices. It makes me sad to think that in the future it might be harder for more of us to access the unconditional love of a pet. They are beautiful, and I want everyone to be able to experience that because pets can change your life.
I know Mow Mow certainly changed mine.
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