Susan Jacobs and her companion Kingston both like chicken and collards, chilling on the couch and riding in her convertible with the breeze tussling his curly black hair. Kingston, it should be said, is a black poodle. But for Jacobs, 45, of Long Beach, Calif., he is like a child. “The next time I travel, I’ll probably take him with me,” said Jacobs, a Mary Kay consultant and freelance writer. “I’m just used to him being around.”
An Associated Press-Petside.com poll released today found that half of all American pet owners consider their pets as much a part of the family as any other person in the household; another 36 percent said their pet is part of the family but not a full member.
And that means pets often get the human touch: Most pet owners cop to feeding animals human food, nearly half give the animals human names and nearly a third let them sleep in a human bed. While just 19 percent had bought an outfit for a pet, 43 percent felt their pet had its own “sense of style.”
Nathan Nommensen, 19, a college student who lives with his parents in Winthrop Harbor, Ill., said their golden retriever Molly sleeps in his parents’ room, goes with them on camping trips and appears in their annual family photo.
He doesn’t consider her a full member of the family, though. “She’s part of the family but not a human part of the family,” he said.
Singles were more likely to say a pet was a full member of the family than married people – 66 percent of single women versus 46 percent of married women, for example. And men were less likely to call their pet a full member of the household.
For some single women, pets become surrogate children, said Kristen Nelson, a veterinarian in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Debbie Jablonski, 50, of Wilmington, N.C., talks about her cats like a mom talks about her children.
Milkshake, who sleeps at the foot of her bed, sticks his cold nose on her eyelid and touches his paw to her face at 4:30 a.m. to wake her up and feed him. The other cat, Licorice, sleeps on the couch and has a habit of sitting on her newspaper when she is trying to read it.
“If you try to budge her, she will not move,” said Jablonski, laughing. “You will have to practically pick her up and move her.”
Jablonski, who works for a laboratory equipment manufacturer, celebrates the cats’ birthdays, includes photos of the cats in holiday cards and watches home movies of them playing.
Most pet owners don’t go that far, according to the survey. Only a little over a quarter celebrate their pet’s birthday or the day it came to live with them and just a third have included a pet’s photo or name in a holiday card.
Still, 42 percent of pet owners have taken a pet on vacation, with dogs more likely to accompany the family than cats. Dog owners were also more likely to take their pets to work (21 percent) or somewhere the animal wasn’t allowed (18 percent).
When it comes to feedings, nearly half of all dog owners and 40 percent of cat owners admit giving their pets human food at least sometimes.
Jimmy Ruth Martin, 73, who sells real estate in Louisville, Texas, said she gives her border collie Samantha table food: chicken, steak, potatoes, salad, ice cream. “She’ll eat anything I’m eating,” she said.
She said her dog has gotten so fat, she can’t climb up on the bed. “The table scraps have done that.”
Helen Reed, 60, of Clearfield, Pa., said her cat Sadie has personality – she is not a lap cat, sleeps at the foot of the bed and likes to be in the same room as her. But she doesn’t dress her up.
Martin doesn’t squeeze Samantha into cute outfits, either, though she said the dog does have her own sense of style. “She’s still a dog and I know it,” she said.
The AP-Petside.com poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media from May 28-June 1, 2009. It is based on landline and cellular telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,110 pet owners. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.