BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
“By most estimates, we’ve been living in close proximity to companion animals for tens of thousands of years. Cats, dogs and other companion animals share our homes, and often our broader environments, and … are part of our families.” This is the introduction to a wonderful fact-filled section of a valuable website I recently found called Faunalytics. They gather and process all kinds of scientific data for the use of animal rights and animal welfare activists. This comes from their section on “companion animals,” which you might simply call “pets.” (faunalytics.org/fundamentals-companion-animals/)
The news magazine The Week recently highlighted pets in their “By the Numbers” section: short, punchy number-crunching about a current topic. There I learned that in 2019, American households spent $90 billion on pets, $13.5 billion more than on alcohol, and that that sum was more than twice what was spent on major appliances, fresh fruit or tobacco products.
And in at least three articles in other sources, including this one (tinyurl.com/s7pgqlad), I see that people are spending more than usual on their pets during the pandemic, so when 2020 numbers come out, they’ll be even higher. And it makes sense. It’s part of the pivot we’re doing to cope with the isolation of living through a plague.
More people have acquired a pet, due to the pandemic, than would normally do so in a year. Sometimes this was a new or first-time pet, and sometimes it was a sooner-than-usual replacement for a pet that passed away. The Washington Post, for instance, reported back in August that “Dog adoptions and sales soar during the pandemic.” And other sources confirm similar trends with cats, reptiles, fish and other aquarium-dwellers, small-to-medium other mammals, and birds.
The Faunalytics website breaks down who keeps these pets and which pets are kept in what numbers. Statistics from 2018 (from a different source) showed over 84 million households in the U.S. had at least one pet. (This is approaching 70 percent of households, so it may be there by now.)
Looking at the North American and European households that have pets, the following percentages are the percent that have that kind of animal (adds up to more than 100 percent):
• Dogs – 48 percent
• Cats – 38 percent
• Freshwater fish – 10 percent
• Birds – 6 percent
• Small mammals and “other” – 5 percent
• Reptiles – 4 percent
• Horses – 2 percent
• Saltwater fish – 2 percent
Mental and physical health (ours)
In a PR Newswire article sourced from Mars Petcare (a corporation producing pet food and care products which includes a pet health research subsidiary), the following was cited:
• Among all pet owners, three quarters or more said that their pets provide important benefits in the form of companionship, reduced stress or anxiety, reduced boredom and monotony and reduced depression during COVID-19.
• Thirty percent of pet owners welcomed a new pet this year, with more than half doing so for companionship.
• Half of the survey respondents reported spending more time with pets as the primary benefit of working from home—even ahead of increased flexibility, cost savings from lack of commute and more time with family.
And the Faunalytics site found the following benefits of living with a companion animal :
• For elders, it helps maintain or improve Activities of Daily Living (ADL) measures.
• For those in a cohabiting relationship, they report their pet is a better listener than their spouse.
• Raising a baby with a dog or cat apparently provides extra immune protection in the first year of life.
• Thinking about your animal companion is more effective than thinking about your best human friend in keeping feelings of social rejection at bay.
• Living with pets not only reduces anxiety, it can improve self-esteem and conscientiousness.
But while these loving beasts give us mental health benefits, we must not neglect theirs. There is growing fear among animal health experts about dogs especially, and how they will react to being left alone more after a year or more of intensified companionship. A Washington Post Lifestyle piece headline says “Our dogs have been there for us. Will we be there for them when the pandemic ends? When life returns to normal, we mustn’t abandon our pets to loneliness.”
There are numerous anecdotes in the news about dogs, and occasionally other animals, “miraculously” diagnosing illnesses in their humans. Dogs’ sense of smell does seem mir-
aculous to us, but it should be no surprise that scientists are looking to dogs to supplement the inaccuracies of coronavirus tests. Another Washington Post piece shows that Labradors are better than laboratories at detecting the corona! (/www.washingtonpost.com/science/2020/08/18/dogs-sniff-coronavirus-detection/)
Mental and physical health (theirs)
A large amount of that $90+ billion is spent on high quality food, over the counter medicines and veterinarian services. If you’re thinking of getting a pet, be sure and make certain you can afford the necessities to keep it healthy. We are lucky to have many good animal clinics in Minneapolis, including Minnehaha Animal Hospital, Nokomis Pet Clinic, Pet Doctors (on East Franklin) and East Lake Animal Hospital in our southside neighborhoods.
There are also limited amounts of free assistance with animal care. For spaying/neutering only, there is MN/SNAP (Spay Neuter Assistance Program). The University of Minnesota Veterinary School offers a monthly free clinic at Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church (see vetouch.umn.edu/our-clinic). And the Animal Humane Society also offers low-cost to free emergency vet care. People and Pets Together, Ani-meals (Meals on Wheels for animals), and some community food banks and “free store” mutual aid sites offer free high-quality pet food and essential supplies.
If bathing and grooming your pet is difficult to accomplish on your own, Royal Pet Beauty Shop at 3019 Lyndale Ave. has 30 years of experience and does wonderful work. Also, many pet stores offer grooming services on-site. And there are even “car wash” style places where you can wash your own dog for far less and keep your apartment safe from flooding and other attendant chaos.
Pet lovers and owners tend to be animal welfare supporters. So, if you care about animals, follow the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” slogan. The Twin Cities also has a plethora of animal rights and animal welfare activists and organizations of every stripe. One rock star of the movement is Nancy Minion, who was instrumental in getting a Pet Breeder Bill passed in Minnesota. She is also the founder of one of the biggest and best rescue organizations in town, Second Chance Animal Rescue. Check out their website for their no-shelter method and philosophy of rescuing animals. (secondchancerescue.org/)
Because of the massive increase in demand for pets, many rescue groups and shelters are actually running out of adoptable pets. If you are forced to shop, here is an article helping you discern law-compliant and caring breeders from the unscrupulous ones: (medium.com/creatures/the-10-most-telltale-signs-of-a-backyard-breeder-6806afe37faa).
Some other notable rescue groups in Minnesota include the only Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS)-certified farm sanctuary in the state, Farmaste, and Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services (MAARS), a specialist bird sanctuary. Also check out Chicken Run Rescue for some hard facts about the lives of “poultry” (who make excellent pets, in fact) and the nationwide network for placement of adoptable animals, RescueMe (MN listings at animal.rescueme.org/Minnesota).