The Human-Animal Bond

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has defined the human-animal bond as: “A mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and other animals.”

The human-animal bond is the dynamic relationship between people and animals in which each influences the psychological and physiological state of the other.

 

 

In a recent study of pet owners in the US, over 97% of people agreed with the statement, “My pet is a member of my family” (Risley-Curtiss, Holley, & Wolf, 2006).

 

 

 

 

The relationship between people and animals is genuinely one of our great love affairs underscored by the prevalence of companion animal pets in the US (American Pet Products Association, 2011-2012).

62% of US households own a pet, which equates to 72.9 million homes:

78.2 million owned dogs

86.4 million owned cats

16.2 million owned birds

 

Few topics challenge our personal beliefs more than considering the proper role of animals in our families and society. When discussing the relationships between people and animals we must openly acknowledge that society as a whole is divided and somewhat ambivalent about contact with animals. Still, many people are passionate about animals. These positive human-animal interactions are often referred to as the human-animal bond.

Positive human-animal interactions have far-reaching benefits. Human-animal bonds promote cooperative social networks among individuals and groups, ultimately increasing production, health and well-being. In fact, some researchers have started to view the impact and benefits of companion animals in society through a social capital lens, drawing attention to the broader effect that companion animals can have on human-human interactions and the social functioning of a community.

The power of the human-animal bond may be triggered by the great need people have for more meaningful attachments than everyday life often provides. The human-animal bond is powerful because it encourages positive social interactions, especially physical touch and nonjudgmental relationships. However, it also works from the inside out by changing our neurochemistry, creating positive physiological, emotional and behavioral benefits. The consistent result is a social encounter that produces a rewarding sense of relaxation, fun and well-being. Some surveys have reported that people feel their pets are some of the most reliable, simple and trusting relationships that they have. The human-animal bond consistently results in affection, comfort and an assortment of other health benefits.

The Link refers to how the human-animal bond is often exploited by individuals to manipulate, threaten, intimidate and emotionally harm their human victims. Specific to the Link, such behaviors are very common in interpersonal violence (most typically domestic violence/intimate partner violence) where threatening to harm or actually harming animals is used as leverage to gain compliance, exact revenge or cause harm to the person having the strong bond to the animal. In cases of maltreatment of children and at-risk adults, victimizers use threats and/or harm to animals to control, intimidate, exploit and silence their victims. In cases of animal fighting, owners of the fighting animals may have some form of bond with the animal that is distorted by ulterior motives and serves a means to an end, often with brutal and tragic results for the animals.