Why we love our pets

by Michael Kimmel, LCSW

If you want to see something amazing, Google "gay people and their pets."  You'll see hundreds of photos and short essays on why we love our animals so.  And I don't just mean dogs and cats: there are horses, ferrets, tortoises - you name it.

We clearly are in love with our pets, and why shouldn't we be?  Most pets are loyal, playful, friendly (depends on the pet you choose) and they're good listeners. They "get" our emotions and often respond (anatomy permitting).

Pets give us great opportunities to practice love.  People are harder to love: we're so unpredictable and moody, we're not always glad to see you when you come home, especially if you're late and didn't call. Pets don't care if you're late, look like hell or want to vent about your awful boss. They love you as you are, listen to your (boring) stories and may even nuzzle against you if you shed a few tears over a date that didn't work out or a lousy job interview.

When I worked at a hospice, there were lovely people who brought in "love dogs" for everyone to pet.  Research shows that petting animals lowers our blood pressure.  The Hospice also allowed people to bring their cats into their rooms because research shows that people who have their animals around them heal faster.

What if you want help in "healing" your shyness?  Well, you might consider getting a dog. Walking a dog is a great way to meet people. Dog lovers will be inclined to strike up a conversation with you and you'll have a commonality to discuss. (Just focus on the dog, not how nervous you are talking to that cute guy/girl.)

Pets also help us grow up by becoming responsible for another being.  A low maintenance pet (like fish) may be a good start. A big ole dog who needs space and wants to be walked and petted and paid attention to is another level of commitment. Pets can't tell us they need to go to the doctor (not in spoken English, anyway), so we have to pay attention to them and learn their cues and body language.

For some of us, our pets are a crucial part of our life, and any potential partner would have to be okay with that. An example of this is the Web site PetPeopleMeet.com. As they say in their ad, "Meet single pet owners. Free to join. 1000s of pictures of Beautiful Single Pet Owners."

They have both opposite- and same-sex match-ups. A Web site like this exists because - for many of us - a potential partner would have to love our pet as much as they love us. We and our pets are a package deal!

And what about pets as substitute children? Is it true that, as stereotypes about us LGBT folks go, that our pets are substitutes for "real" children? I think this stereotype isn't so much about our sexual orientation as it is about personal preferences. Many straight people prefer pets over kids, and many LGBT folks have both kids and pets, so let's not buy into that stereotype.

In my biased opinion, pets are not substitutes for anything; they are enough just being their wonderful selves. Children are a whole other phenomenon. Not better, just different. At least, this is what my cat tells me.

Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist (LCSW 20738) with a private practice in Kensington, Calif. He can be reached through his website at www.lifebeyondtherapy.com.

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