Mixed Messages Lead People To Abandon Companion Animals
Conflicting Attitudes: Pets as Members of the Family and Abuse of Companion Animals Companion animals reside in an estimated 60% of households, which is greater than the number of households with children. According to the American Veterinary Association (1997), 78% of households with children age 6 and older have companion animals. Several literary sources have identified links between abuse of companion animals and domestic violence.
With respect to domestic violence against women, companion animals are emotionally supportive. Several studies have estimated between 43% and 71% of victims have said their abusers have threatened, harmed or killed their companion animals. Additionally, battered women continue to worry about their companion animals after they have escaped their situation, or have stayed longer in abusive situations to save their companion animals. The evidence suggests that battered women engage in greater risk to themselves for the benefit of their companion animals because they perceive them to be family members. Research indicates that the abusers target these animals because of the close bond between the women and their companion animals, and the desire to control. In sum, this shows the conflicting beliefs of people that animals are lesser beings that can be harmed, while at the same time viewing them as a powerful tool by which to control people.
Abandonment of Companion Animals: Common Reasons Arkow & Dow (1984) found that 6.3% of people abandon companion animals to shelters because of financial reasons. Of these animals, 46.8% came from friends or neighbors (83.2% at no cost), 5.7% from breeders and 4.7% from companion animal shops. Over 63% were disposed of within one year. Dogs who came at a higher cost were kept longer than those at lower cost or free. In an Ohio study, Miller (1996) found that 30% of dogs were abandoned for behavioral problems, time/work/cost (21%), moving (19%), other (12%), owner ill (9%), litter (5%), companion animal ill (4%). This study also found that dogs obtained from private owners or shelters were more likely to be abandoned under 2 years of age.
Patronek (1996) identified several factors related to higher likelihood of companion animal abandonment, including lack of obedience classes, lack of veterinary care, lack of spay/neuter, inappropriate care expectations and inappropriate places for elimination.
Many other similar studies were noted, but these authors conclude that there are conflicting views of companion animals as seen in the relationship between price and time to abandon, which reflects the view of companion animals as property and as family members. Additionally, shelters often try to downplay what will happen to companion animals (family members) after abandonment through such methodology as “quick” drop offs, etc. Animals as Economic Goods A major influence over the way animals are treated is the fact that our social structure ultimately treats animals as property. Penalties for mistreatment of animals are relatively weak, and animals are often associated with many economic traits of property. A conflict again exists, as animals are often treated as family members. It is hypothesized that this conflict leads to dissonance, abuse and abandonment by allowing people to switch schemes as the situation requires. Uncertainty in Costs and Benefits With respect to companion animals, the up front costs are low compared to long term maintenance costs. In addition, the non-monetary costs associated with companion animals may be very high. In a 2000 New York survey, Frank found that most frequently that the costs and benefits associated with having a companion animal are underestimated. This suggests that if consumers purchase an animal expecting the benefits to be higher than the costs, than most consumers should be more satisifed with their purchase than they originally thought. According to this survey, 3% reported less benefit than expected while more reported greater costs than expected, which implies that if either low benefits or high costs are responsible for abandonment, than it is the costs rather than the benefits that vary negatively from expectation. Unrealistic expectations of cost or benefit can potentially lead to abandonment. Social Dissonance in Attitudes Toward Animals In addition to individual attitudes toward animals as property, another potential influence of abandonment is societal attitudes toward animals. There are numerous influences including fur trade and the use of animals in research. Conflicting arguments also results, for example, vegans argue for the absolute abstention from animal products while hunters liken their sport to the eating of animals. These inconsistencies in attitude can lead to cognitive dissonance, which is the tension that one feels when the individual becomes aware of conflicting thoughts or behaviors. Here when an individual desires to take some action to minimize animal suffering, there is a resulting awareness that the problem is too large scale so that “anything goes.” At this point, people can fragmentize what is acceptable behavior so they can reconcile their behavior. This “dissonance-reducing” behavior can surface when an animal owner wishes to abandon or harm a companion animal.
Animals as Stupid or Unfeeling The perception that animals are stupid or unfeeling can lead people to treat their animals negatively. Animals in abusive or negative relationships are more likely to develop behavioral problems. Often times, those individuals who engage in abusive or neglectiful relationships with their companion animals view them as unintelligent because of preexisting prejudices and anthropocentric notions.
In sum, these authors conclude that protection of animals can come about through a change in public policy and the creation of laws that will punish offenders and protect animals. However, prior to this, a change in social attitudes to value animal life and to refrain from abandonment is necessary.