~ Jon Katz
The New Work of Dogs
In fact, a study under way at a major U.S. veterinary school was finding that more than half the married women in its sample told researchers that they got more emotional support from their dogs then from their husbands. (In March 2001, The New York Times reported on a similar survey with almost identical findings.) Their dogs understood them better than some members of their families, they said. More than 80 percent believed their dogs loved them “unconditionally” and would be loyal to them “no matter what.” Almost half said they couldn’t really say the same for their spouses.
In Albert and Bulcroft’s 1988 study “Pets, Families, and the Life Course,” the researchers found that pet ownership is comparatively low among widowed people for a number of reasons: physical frailty, expense, housing restrictions, and a desire for autonomy. Many older people in Montclair also told me they didn’t want to get a dog that would almost surely outlive them.
But for those widowed or single people who own one, a pet can be an important source of affection and companionship. “As givers and receivers of affection,” note Albert and Bulcroft, “pets can contribute to the morale maintenance of people who live alone or with few significant others to play such roles.” And, compared to other animals, the researchers found, dogs are the most adept at playing affectionate and emotionally supportive roles.