Can an animal take the place of a child?

The numbers are growing: 22.6 million dogs and cats lived in French homes in 2021, an increase of 3.5 million in two decades*. Above all, 20-35 year olds have never been more pampered than they seem, preferring to keep a puppy or a mother cat rather than having a baby. A phenomenon that covers all Western countries to such an extent that even Pope Francis will say in one of his prayers in January 2022 that “he regrets that pets sometimes replace children.” It should be noted that young masters in social networks are getting into the habit of dressing up their four-legged friends and even taking them for a walk with a stroller. According to Ifop, more than half of dog and cat owners between the ages of 18 and 34 regularly post photos and videos of their furry “children” – these French bulldogs, who owe their dazzling success, they say, to their small bodies and round, baby-like eyes. .. Also cats and dogs often have human names: Marguerite, Gaspard, Romy or Michel. “But what is really new, sociologist Christophe Blanchard**, is the extreme responsibility that young adults show towards their animal. They want to know everything about its mental and physical functioning so that they can take better care of it. Like children, aren’t they in a rush to have it?

*Statistics, 2022

**Author The masters explained to their dogsTerritory

A great need for love

Parenthood is now delayed – women in France have their first baby at an average age of 30.9 compared to 28 in 2015* – which may partly explain the desire to compensate with an animal before the thirties. Not to mention the economic and health crises, the isolation and eco-discomfort experienced during detentions, exacerbates this phenomenon. In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, Marion and Thomas, both 32, adopted Tom, a long-haired dachshund, not just to get some fresh air in the middle of the curfew. “We had to have a little dog to caress and hug him. Tom is our baby! He knows Mario. It certainly fulfills the great need for love, but at the same time, especially with a dog – it maintains a social and emotional connection for the most isolated people, all studies confirm. Since taking care of Max, her 12-month-old labrador, Kamil, 35, who is single, is feeling much better. “If it wasn’t for him, I would spend my time working or watching programs. Max brings me back to the concrete and thanks to him I met a lot of ‘real’ people on my street corner,” she assures, before adding: “He will never let me down. With him, there is no risk of ingratitude. Besides, I chose it. He is like a child, only better! »

*Insee, 2021

“It’s great to obey!” »

Camille shocks many people with this claim. Let’s just say he’s not wrong in thinking that the kid will never be as nimble as Max the dog – and better. Big cats or dogs, if they’re part of the family, have the ability to instill a sense of omnipotence that a baby can instill – flattering their master’s ego in the process. Especially with a dog, a certain force is applied (“Sit!”, “Lie down!”), we are amazed (“Look how strong he is, how beautiful…”). It is very good to renarcissizing and obeying! “When you take care of an animal, you can’t help but feel for it, as if it were a person, often a child, but that doesn’t mean that dog or cat owners really confuse the roles.” Pierre Jegou, behavioral therapist. “I have a dog, I don’t have children. It certainly fills a void for me, but despite all that, I know how to make a difference! “42-year-old Celine is annoying.

The search for salvation

Moreover, the animal does not necessarily fill a severe emotional deficiency… For the author of the book, anthropologist Jean-Pierre Digard the French and their animals (Fayard), the enthusiasm of the youngest corresponds more to the need that grows with the gradual loss of contact with nature. “In all hunter-gatherer societies, men would bring home the young of animals killed while hunting, and these orphans would grow up as children,” he explains. They somehow balanced their actions. Today, large animal slaughter is somewhat the same in our societies, dogs and cats may be unconsciously associated with bringing animals back. We are redeeming ourselves for the damage done by man and previous generations.

Force yourself to grow

If the animal removes guilt, for Christophe Blanchard it also provides strength. A sociologist describes a generation of “adults” for whom “adopting an animal is a way of forcing oneself to grow up.” It gives responsibilities, it sets limits on what we can or won’t respond to. This is what happened when 34-year-old bachelor Eduard’s cat Brad came into his life. “I didn’t have a frame before, I was still living like a teenager. Now I have to go home at normal times to feed him, change his litter, be with him. I learned to compromise and sacrifice. I’ve lost count of the times I haven’t gone on a weekend to not leave him alone! Thanks to my cat, I discovered that I am not so selfish…” And this does not calm Eduard himself!

Preparation for the life of parents?

We see this trend, especially on dating sites, of showing yourself with your pet through “dog hunting”. For 25% of 18-24-year-olds, a furry companion is an attractive feature, the animal gives its owner an aura of seriousness and stability. In fact, 58% of women (vs. 25% of men) say they are more attracted to a suitor accompanied by a dog*. 30-year-old Fati confirms: “When I saw Ali with Wrac, his gorgeous blue-eyed Australian Shepherd, I felt instantly confident. This gave him a strong and generous image of the ideal father! Often, in fact, the choice and desire to become a mother to an animal is experienced as a kind of preparation for the future life as a parent. A step forward and a kind of test to see if the couple is strong enough. For Natasha and Vincent, for example, adopting their cat Lolita was a powerful move: “It was a way to connect without chaining us down. If it doesn’t work out between us, we still don’t have to go to a judge to fight over his custody! (see box). For her part, 30-year-old Emilie says: “My boyfriend was very keen to adopt the dog, but then when it came to taking care of it, he was not at all keen. Having children with him did not give me confidence! “On the contrary, Marion and Thomas the dachshund might well change the test, hoping that Tom is not too jealous …

*Fediaf European study (European Pet Food Industry), 2021

Law in Spain

In France, since 2016, the law considers an animal a sentient being, but it is the owners’ responsibility to care for it if they are separated. On the other hand, in Spain, the law from 2021 gives the animal the same status as a child, especially in the case of divorce. Alimony may be requested by determining the right of custody only in accordance with the interests of the animal. Observers link the country’s low birth rate (1.23 children per woman in 2021, compared to 1.84 in France, according to INSEE).

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