Pets as Good Listeners

Going back to prehistoric times, when wild animals such as wolves were domesticated, human beings have had a special relationship with their pets. Like a good friend, a pet fills the need for companionship and unconditional love that seems to be hard-wired in the human psyche. Until recently, this relationship between humans and their pets has been anecdotally recognized, but it has never been measured. This changed in mid-April 2010, when the Associated Press joined forces with the website petside.com to determine the therapeutic effect that pets have on their human friends.

The “AP-Petside.com Poll” was conducted from April 7 through April 12, 2010, and it surveyed 1,112 pet owners throughout the United States. It involved having participants answer a series of interview questions and was conducted via land-lines and mobile phones. Statistical experts hired for the project note that the survey has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points. Unfortunately, no pets were questioned by the interviewers due to communications limitations. Therefore, only the human side of the relationship was analyzed!

Pets Know How to Listen

The most interesting part of this survey involves how humans feel about their pets’ ability to show empathy. More than one-third of the pet-owning, married women interviewed in this poll noted that their pets are better listeners than their husbands. Eighteen percent of the pet-owning married men said that their pets are better listeners than their wives.

While most pet-owners would not disagree with these findings, the primary reasons given for this high percentage of empathy suggests a universal truism about the relationship between humans and animals. This AP survey concluded that the reason most husbands and wives felt that their pets were better listeners than their spouse is because pets don’t have an opinion about what is being “discussed” and they give unconditional support.

Whether a pet’s brain is developed enough to have even an approximate understanding of human speech, much less grasp the complicated nuances of a conversation has been (somewhat inconclusively) researched by biologists and linguists. However, the important aspect of this situation is the appearance that the pet is listening and caring about the person who is sharing information. In this case, a pet’s inability to verbally communicate enhances the feeling of empathy.

Dr. Spot Will See You Now

The survey revealed some other therapeutic advantages of pet ownership. Of those surveyed, about 10 percent said that they would chat with their non-human buddies about troubles that they were experiencing. One can easily visualize the nonjudgmental face of “Spot” or “Fluffy” patiently listening (perhaps turning his head slightly to the right) to an owner’s monologue about a supervisor at work who just doesn’t understand the sacrifices he makes for the good of the company!

So, which pet would you guess has the best psychological bedside manner? The AP-Petside.com survey found that dogs are much better listeners than cats. Unfortunately, there were no numbers on hamsters, birds or snakes. More than 25 percent of dog owners said that their canines listened better than their spouse, while only 14 percent of cat owners chose the feline over the spouse.  

As for the mental health of these animals, the survey revealed that most people believe that their pets are emotionally stable and seldom struggle with depression. Only 5 percent of the pet owners said that they had taken an animal to the veterinarian or pet psychologist because they seem a little depressed. However, 18 percent of the pet owners noted that they would not hesitate to take their buddy to the animal shrink it they felt he needed some counseling.

We love our pets. The amount of money spent on pet food, toys, veterinarians, grooming and other creature comforts on them is staggering. However, having a great listener, who doesn’t have an opinion (at least one that he /she can convey) and is always ready to offer some good-natured affection, makes it all a bargain.