Pet Ownership and Adults’ Views on the Use of Animals

Wells, D. L. and P.G. Hepper. Pet Ownership and Adults’ Views on the Use of Animals.  Society & Animals, Vol 5, No. 1, 1997, 45-63.

Animals are widely used today. Britain especially has always been considered to be a nation of animal lovers, and indeed this is reflected in the large number of households owning one or more pets. According to a report by the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association from 1996, at least 50% of households in the United Kingdom owned one or more pets in the previous year. Studies have shown that in addition to the increase in the number of people owning domestic animals, recent years have also witnessed an increase in concern for human-animal relationships and issues related to animal welfare.

Previous studies have found that many factors are believed to influence attitudes toward animals and the ways they are used, including gender, age, pet ownership, and to a lesser extent, residence area, parents’ attitudes toward animals, religious affiliation and ethnicity. Studies have consistently shown that females from both North America and Britain have expressed more concern with certain animal welfare issues than males, such as the use of animals in research. Research has demonstrated that females make up the majority of membership of animal welfare groups, more likely to abstain from eating meat or other selected animal produce, and to hold more anthropomorphic views regarding animals.

Despite the fact that animals are used in many ways in modern society, studies which have examined people’s attitudes toward animal welfare have focused mainly on issues of hunting, or the use of animals in research. In addition, many studies have used either students or individuals involved in animal rights movements as their subjects rather than members of the general public.

A study was conducted to explore a variety of different uses of animals rather than concentrating solely on hunting or medical research. Furthermore, it examined the attitudes of the general public rather than select groups of the population. A survey was used to examine the attitudes of adults of Northern Ireland toward some of the ways in which animals are used, and investigated the influence of gender, age, and pet ownership on these attitudes. Four hundred and twenty-two adults provided information regarding pet ownership and their attitudes toward a variety of issues involving the use of animals that usually lead to death (such as hunting, hare-coursing, dog-fighting, medical and non-medical research), and those which do not result in the same amount of animal suffering (such as dog-racing, dog shows, pigeon-racing, horse-racing, show jumping, the use of animals in circuses, and in zoos). Pet ownership” in the present study was defined as “the possession of a tame or domesticated animal.” The term, “pet” was employed instead of “companion animal” since it is debatable whether all types of domestic animals can act as “companions”.

Results showed that over 63% of the sample owned a household pet, with the dog being the most common. Household pets were more commonly owned by respondents who were married, younger than 65 years of age, living in detached houses, or having a child/children present in the home. Most concern was expressed toward those types of animal uses which lead to death or injury, especially dog fighting. Females expressed more disagreement than males with most of the uses of animals examined. Dog owners expressed more approval of fox- hunting and hare-coursing than non-dog owners, and horse owners expressed more approval of fox-hunting than non-horse owners.

The authors discuss the implications of the findings. The effect of gender on attitudes toward animal exploitation may be the result of differences in cognitive and emotional orientations between males and females The extent to which pet ownership may influence a person’s attitudes toward the use of animals may be related to the age of the pet owner. Results suggest that the presence of a pet in the household may exert an influence on owners’ perceptions of animal welfare, with younger pet owners being more positively influenced than older owners. While the use of animals for companionship appeared to be very acceptable (given the large number of participants reporting owning a household pet), the use of animals for activities that usually result in their death or injury was deemed highly unacceptable. This implies that some of the ways in which people use animals are considered more acceptable than others. In addition, the authors suggest that it is incorrect to group different kinds of animal use into one broad category. With respect to the examination of the issues involving animal use, participants were found to express more concern about those activities that usually lead to an animal’s death or injury (hunting, hare-coursing, dog-fighting, medical and non-medical research), than about those which do not result in the same amount of animal suffering (dog-racing, dog shows, pigeon-racing, horse-racing, show jumping, the use of animals in circuses, and in zoos). Previous research has not addressed the distinction between these two issues in adults, although studies have found that children showed extremely similar views to those of the adults in the present study.

Since the amount of agreement/ disagreement adults displayed was different for each issue, it is important for future research to consider each animal use separately rather than consider all uses of animals together and as equally agreeable or disagreeable. The authors argue that future years may see a shift in the way society uses animals, from manipulation toward care for their well-being.

Summary by Effie Heotis

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