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Pets - History, Shelters, Pounds, And Euthanasia, The Purebred Dog Industry, Feral Cats, Pet Abuse And Neglect

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Pets are animals that humans keep for pleasure rather than utility. Their value is mostly emotional. They help to fulfill human desires for companionship, affection, entertainment, and ownership.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) was founded in 1958 and is the nation's leading pet industry trade group. More than 750 companies were members of the association as of 2005. Every two years, the APPMA releases data on pet ownership. According to the 2003/2004 National Pet Owners Survey, more than 377 million animals were kept as pets in the United States. Cats, dogs, ornamental fish, and tropical birds are the most popular. Other common pets include horses, rabbits, livestock, pigeons and poultry, guinea pigs, turtles, snakes, ferrets, gerbils, lizards, and miscellaneous reptiles and rodents. More than one-third of American households had a dog or a cat. Nearly half owned more than one pet. The breakdown by pet is shown in Figure 9.1.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) performed a pet census in 1991, 1996, and 2001. The latest survey was detailed in the 2001 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook. The survey found that the pet cat population was 68.9 million, up from fifty-seven million in 1991. There were 61.6 million pet dogs, up from 52.5 million in 1991. Pet horse, rabbit, turtle, lizard, reptile, and ferret populations have also increased since 1991.

Pets have a unique status. Legally, they are considered personal property. This offers them some protection under the law, as damaging someone else's property is a crime. From a psychological standpoint, most pets enjoy a higher value. Many people say they consider their pets to be members of the family, almost like children. The APPMA notes that U.S. pet owners spent $32 billion in 2003 on pet supplies, equipment, and services. This is nearly double the $17 billion spent in 1994.

The status of pet species differs in different societies—for example, most Americans would not consider eating a dog, cat, or horse, but this taboo does not exist in some other cultures.

It surprises many pet owners to learn that some animal rights groups are opposed to the idea of keeping pets. Pet ownership is a thorny issue in the animal rights debate. Some activists are outspoken that any use of any animal for any human purpose is wrong. However, when it comes to pets, many consider this stance too radical. A great number of those who work to improve animal welfare are pet owners. Most animal rights groups and animal welfarists focus their attention on particular pet problems, such as neglect, abuse, and overpopulation. They are particularly critical of breeders and pet stores that sell pets to the public. The keeping of wild animals as pets is condemned by all major organizations working for animal rights and welfare.

Some groups say that people keep pets for the wrong reasons. They argue that some people get pets to compensate for their inability to engage in healthy social contact with other people. Pets may be a crutch or a time-filler to these people. Others rely on pets to build their egos or make them feel good about themselves in some way. The ability to control another living being can be a powerful motivator. Some people see pets as disposable items to be kept as long as they are useful or fun, and discarded when they are not. Many people think that taking care of a pet is educational for children because it teaches them responsibility and respect for other living creatures. Some people believe that keeping a pet has a spiritual basis, and that it brings them closer to nature.

The common thread in all of these reasons is that they focus on the needs and wants of the pet owner rather than the pet. Some people feel this is only fair, as it is the pet owner who provides food, shelter, and care. Shouldn't people be able to keep animals as pets as long they take FIGURE 9.1
Number of pets, 2003
SOURCE: Adapted from "Pet Ownership," in Fact Sheet: Industry Statistics & Trends, American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, Inc., 2003, (accessed March 10, 2005)
care of them? There is a movement by some humane organizations to refer to pets as "companion animals" and to owners as "guardians." These terms demonstrate the desire of these groups to elevate pets from property status to wards or dependents.

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