by Amanda Bertholf // Spring 2013
When the chapel doors opened and Olivia Ryan (M.P.A. ’10) began her walk down the aisle, she was surprised to see her dog Tayto among the onlookers. Decked out in his finest necktie, the spaniel mix lounged calmly alongside the aisle, another witness to the day’s events. During the wedding planning process, Ryan intended to include Tayto (named after an Irish potato chip brand) on the big day. But when weather threatened the outdoor wedding and forced events to move indoors, accommodating the dog along with everything else that goes into planning a wedding became even more stressful. Ryan and her fiancé, Eric Wieman, a resident at the UMKC School of Medicine, agreed to leave Tayto at home. “But then Eric showed up with him,” Ryan says. “I didn’t know Tayto would be there until I walked in and saw him. He was cute and quiet. I’m glad he was there.”
Whether they include them in their weddings or spend thousands of dollars on veterinary care, some people treat pets like family. Pets can be peoples’ best friends and sometimes even surrogate children, and the bonds formed with them can be the longest and strongest relationships in peoples’ lives. As a veterinarian, Libby Robertson, DVM, (Bio.Sci.) owner of Martin City Animal Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., encounters the human-animal bond daily, and she says the relationship between pet and owner runs deep. “I have seen clients go through a pet’s death, and then they pass away shortly thereafter—it’s a very significant bond.” She’s also had clients who have gone above and beyond their emotional and financial capabilities to take care of a pet. “People will drive across the country to see a certain specialist for veterinary care,” she says. “I had a couple of clients recently who blew up air mattresses so they could sleep next to a pet that was recovering from surgery at home.”
The human-animal bond is increasing and strengthening on multiple levels. Sixty two percent of U.S. households own a pet, with cats edging out dogs, 86 million to 78 million, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). With the pet population and pet ownership on the rise the last 20 years, a booming industry has emerged. In 2012, pet owners will spend an estimated $52 billion on food, supplies, veterinary care and boarding and grooming, a 200 percent increase since 1994. APPA data show that spending on pets has increased every year, even during economic recessions.
For all the time, money and effort people put into their pets, they do repay us in their own way. Pets create more work for their owners—they don’t clean the house—but people love having them. Humans thrive when they have animals in their lives, and not just mentally but physically as well, Robertson says. “I’ve seen elderly keep moving and get out of bed to take care of a pet. Otherwise they would’ve lay in bed and suffered,” she says. “I’ve seen clients lose weight because they adopted a dog. I’ve seen kids learn responsibility because of the bond with their pet. Pet ownership makes us healthier mentally and physically.”