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Are your pets members of your family?

Do you think of your pets as family members? Is your cat or dog a replacement for the children that have now flown the nest? New research from the University of Warwick suggests what we’ve always suspected, that pets are sometimes more like family than our own kin.

The research, presented later this month at the conference of the British Sociological Association, is based upon a survey in which families were asked to map their relationships.

Professor Nickie Charles explains: “We weren’t expecting this, but when we asked people to map out their families and friends we were repeatedly asked if they should include their dog, their cat or another pet.

“Often the request was made with a smile, but about a quarter of those surveyed asked if they could include pets.

“In some ways it makes sense that people value those family and friends which are most useful to them. If pets are useful, either as assistance animals or simply as company, then they have greater emotional value to individuals than a relative we just keep on our Christmas card list.”

Of the 193 people asked to draw up a Relationship Network Diagram, 44 spontaneously mentioned pets. Professor Charles says the traditional socially constructed boundary between people and nature is often blurred in this way.

The paper My Family and other Animals: Pets as Kin will be presented at the British Sociological Association Conference at the University of Warwick on 28-30 March 2008.

Richard Fern | alfa
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