Exploring the Role of Pets in the Modern Family Dynamic


Family with animals sitting on the carpet.The International Day of Families

is a worldwide celebration founded by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1992.ย  This special holiday promotes awareness of issues affecting families throughout the global community, and is meant to increase knowledge of the social and economic processes affecting families.During International Day of Families, workshops and lectures across the world address issues such as ensuring work-family balance, confronting family poverty and social exclusion, and families and persons with disabilities.Adding to this impressive list of topics,


would like to discuss the role of pets in the modern family dynamic. As many families know, a pet can add tremendous joy to a home, but can also be a source of conflict among family members.In a

2011 article

from the New York Times, University of Chicago psychologist and co-director of the Chicago Center for Family Heath, Froma Walsh is quoted, โ€œin the way that children get caught up in the family system as peacekeepers, as go-betweens, as sources of disagreement, the same happens with pets.โ€She argues that animals often sense these expectations, and act on them, citing the example of a cat that would jump on their ownerโ€™s lap when they sensed an emerging spousal argument, causing both parties to relax.Although pets can have a positive effect on the family dynamic, the article also asserts that many family members can often disagree over the role of the pet or how he or she should be treated.For instance, individuals from a rural background tend to see their dogs as guardians to be kept outside, while middle-class families tend to treat their dog more like a child; keeping them in the house and indulging them with special toys, food, or sleeping arrangements.These differences may only come up after a family adopts a pet, causing disagreements over daily pet care responsibilities such as how many times to walk the dog, how much should be spent on veterinary bills, and the ever-popular, should the dog or cat be allowed in bed.In a

2007 study

, Dr. David Blouin, a sociologist from the Indiana University South Bend, found that these arguments stem from strong cultural and psychological ideologies which he argues fall into three broad categories; โ€œdominionists,โ€ โ€œhumanists,โ€ and โ€œprotectionists.โ€Dominionists tend toย treat pets as a useful and beloved, butย ultimatelyย replaceable addition to the family. Families with a rural orย mid-westernย background who have working dogs may fall into this category.Humanists cherish their pets as meaningful companions. They are likely to treat them to special meals, pamper them with grooming rituals, and mourn their death as if they were a child.Though theirย opinionsย on exactly how a pet should be treated may vary (i.e. kept indoors or out), protectionists tend to believe that animals are more vulnerable than humans, and strive to protect animal rights.This research suggests that people learn how animals should be treated fromย ideologiesย that are enforced by cultural or psychological tendencies. It's clear, however, that animals play an essential role in modern society, and must always be treated with the utmost respect and care.How do you view the role of pets in the family dynamic? Would you categorize yourself as a dominionist, humanist, or protectionist? Tell us in the comments below!Sources:



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