The field of psychotherapy has traditionally viewed those whose closest relationships are with animals as somehow lacking, their affections pathologically misplaced, their devotion a symptom of their inability to forge healthy connections with the humans aroundÂ them.
But in recent years, researchers have begun to take far more seriously the bonds between humans and animals and to evaluate those relationships in a more positiveÂ light.
“There are whole segments of the population that prefer being in the company of dogs than people, and I’m not sure that’s such a negative thing,” said Joel Gavriele-Gold, a psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan and the author of “When Pets Come BetweenÂ Partners.”
In a recent study, Lawrence Kurdek, a psychologist at Wright State University in Ohio, found that college students who had a high level of attachment to their dogs showed greater attachment to the pets than to their fathers. Their attachment to their mothers, siblings and best friends was just about the same as their attachment to their canine companions, KurdekÂ found.
The study, reported in the April issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, found that the students who were most strongly attached to their dogs did not show high levels of anxiety or avoidance – characteristics that some therapists would expect to see in people with unusually fierce bonds toÂ animals.
The finding, Kurdek wrote, supports the idea that “people strongly attached to their pet dogs do not turn to pet dogs as substitutes for failed interactions withÂ humans.”
To Gavriele-Gold, the intensity of the relationship between people and their pets isÂ unsurprising.
“Humans tend to be very disappointing – notice our divorce rate,” Gavriele-Gold said. “Dogs are not hurtful and humans are. People are inconsistent and dogs are fairlyÂ consistent.”
Still, he said, he has seen patients who, betrayed and wounded in childhood, have turned to a cat or dog for the uncritical support and love they neverÂ received.
“If you grew up in an atmosphere where you were abused, you’re not going to have a high regard for people,” heÂ said.
Hmmm, a big, furry creature full of unconditional love that doesn’t talk or complain and can’t wait for you to get home every day. Kind of a no-brainer to me!
If you’re still interested, check out the full article from the International Herald Tribune by Erica Goode.