Down Under Diaries: Australian Pets Versus American Pets

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Kevin Newman with dog, Cynder.

Welcome to the Down Under Diaries! Kevin Newman (aka. That Dog Dancing Guy) has been the Social Media Officer at The Lost Dogs’ Home, one of Australia’s largest animal welfare organisations, since December 2011. He began blogging as That Dog Dancing Guy in 2012 as a way of developing the bond with his dogs as well as sharing his experiences with others. Topics he is most passionate about include the canine sport Dog Dancing, responsible pet ownership, training, behaviour and animal welfare. The views expressed in this series are his own and not those of his employer.

Editor’s Note: We had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Newman at the BlogPaws Conference in May on Lake Las Vegas. After talking to him, spending some time chatting  and comparing notes, the way pets are viewed in Australia versus here in the states surprised me. I also had the pleasure of hearing Kevin speak at the Meet the Rescues event, which took place that same weekend. This dynamo flew all the way from Australia to the States for this conference. His dedication and passion for animals is apparent in knowing him for a few moments. It is with great pleasure that Kevin Newman is our official Summer,2014 guest blogger here on Fidose of Reality.

Kevin Newman
Kevin on left talking to another Aussie blogger who attended the conference.

Down Under Diaries: Pets are family, but are they as much as in America?

As far as pet ownership goes, Australia and America are very similar. Statistics have shown that 62% of American households and 63% of Australian households own at least one pet. One of the figures that really stuck out for me during the keynote from the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative at BlogPaws was that 90% of families in North America consider their pet as a family member who provides emotional support and unconditional love. One of the first things I wanted to do when I got back home was to see if these feelings were mutual towards pets in Australia, so I got in touch with some experts to find out more!

Dr. Joanne Righetti is one of Australia’s top animal behaviourists with a PhD in animal behaviour and 15 years business experience helping people and pets through her Pet Problems Solved business. She is a regular guest on a number of radio shows, TV and writes for a number of pet magazines down under. I caught up with Dr Jo to get her views on pet ownership in Australia.

Statistics show that over 90% of families in North America consider their pets as a family member who provides emotional support and unconditional love. Do you think that the Australian attitude towards pets is consistent with this? Why?

This is consistent with Australian attitudes towards pets. Various studies have been conducted and these have reported that people consider pets as part of the family. According to the Australian Veterinary Association, 96% of dog owners consider their dog to be a family member.

I did my own survey in 2013 and asked pet owners (Australian and otherwise) how they felt about their pets. The Aussie results from 515 respondents were as follows when asked to complete the sentence “I consider my pet to be…”

                        A pet – 7%

                        One of the family – 60.1%

                        My friend/best mate – 12.6%

                        My partner in life – 1.6%

                        My child – 18.7%

Obviously only pet lovers would take such a survey so it is biased but it does show the extent of our bond.

dog beach
Photo courtesy with permission to Kevin Newman via Akemi Photography.

Would you say that the attitude towards pets varies between inner city, suburban and rural areas?

My personal opinion is that attitudes may vary between urban and rural areas but I have no statistics to back that up. We often hear rural pet owners talking about their working dogs and their ‘pet dogs’, almost like they are two separate species! The pet dog is allowed indoors but the working dogs must stay outside of the family home. However, there are also many working dogs, police dogs, assistance dogs etc. who are very much part of the family.

Personally, I think people in rural and even suburban areas readily acquire pets, perhaps with the belief that having space (land or a backyard) will keep a pet happy. In inner city areas, it is often more difficult to keep pets due to apartment-living and strata laws so people will give more consideration to having a pet and also the type of pet or breed that they get.

Perhaps this means that they will be more bonded to their pet and it’s also possible that because of smaller families these days people are looking for something to lavish their affection and nurturing ability on.

It’s possible that people in rural or regional areas are just less likely to admit the way they feel towards about their pets. For instance, I come across many city dwelling, apartment-living couples who readily say that their pet is their baby and has all the privileges that a human would, but very few regional pet owners would say the same.

dog computer
Photo courtesy with permission to Kevin Newman via Akemi

What are Australian attitudes like towards cats?

Here is where Australia is a little behind the rest of the developed world: Cats are not our number one pet and are probably never going to be. Many Aussies simply do not understand the supposed ‘aloof’ nature of cats. Cat owners know that this is not the case and that cats can be kept without hunting native wildlife and have just as great a bond as dogs do with their owners. Cat owners really appreciate the independent nature of their pets!

Of course part of the lack of understanding about cats is that cat people are naturally quieter and don’t take their cat on walks and they can’t talk in the park with other cat owners. However, they can be found online!

In my experience I believe that attitudes towards cats are changing here in Australia. Cats make great pets for urban living, people are now more willing to admit they love their cats and I like to encourage them.

During my research into Australian attitudes towards pets I also got in touch with Kerry Martin of Akemi Photography. Kerry not only has her very own furry family members the gorgeous Keiko and Kimba but also sees many families through her photography work.

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How do your own pets fit into your family? Have you always considered them family members?

Our dog Keiko and our cat Kimba are definitely the furkids. They are wonderful members of the family and we wouldn’t have it any other way. They bring considerable joy, companionship and love to our home.

They essentially have the run of the house – although Kimba has one area that is just for him so that he can get away from the playful Keiko when he feels the need. Kimba sits by me on his own sheepskin cushion on the desk whenever I am working at the computer and our day is not complete without taking Keiko for a walk or playing with him and his current favourite toy in the backyard.

Keiko and Kimba both sleep on the bed and we plan our Australian holidays to places that Keiko can come with us to. Wherever we can he comes with us on outings or we plan to meet people at dog friendly places (many of our friends and family have the same relationship with their dog!).

Do most pet owners that you’ve met consider their pets as family?

Absolutely! Pet lovers come to me as they want to capture the connection that they have with their pets and the way that make them feel through photography. I find that words like furkids and furbabies are used frequently and that people don’t call themselves owners so much nowadays and prefer mum/dad (or some variation of that) or pet parents.

Many of my clients regularly buy and spoil their pets with clothing, treats, days out and have household routines that include their pets.

Comments

  1. That is really interesting. I certainly enjoyed meeting and talking to Kevin at the BlogPaws conference. I’ve been following him since. He is a great animal advocate. On one of our Tuesday Twitter chats, he said several animals that Americans keep as pets are forbidden in Australia.

  2. We have loved “virtually” meeting some amazing pet people from Australia by way of having Mort (Australian Kelpie mix) in our family. Other than the urban / rural differences in many of our cases, that love is exactly the same.

    Love the photo/video editing keyboard overlay shot – that’s one talented pixel pusher! 🙂

  3. Great article Kev! As far as cats in Australia go, opinion is always polarised – people either love cats or hate them. Whereas people tend not to have such strong reactions to dogs…it’s interesting!

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