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What is anthrozoology/Animal therapy/Pathological relationships

Pets are not just another element of our home. Unlike furniture or plants, pets are seen as some more members of the family whose relationship with people is usually beneficial physically and emotionally. Anthrozoology is a relatively new science that deals with the study of the relationships between humans and animals, especially those more domesticated. He is also in charge of improving the conditions of the animals and how they can benefit us. What is anthrozoology?

Given the large number of pets in our societies, it is especially important to know how they can affect our mental health and how their presence can act as a protective factor against the manifestation of psychopathology and criminality.

What is anthrozoology?

Anthrozoology (from “anthropos”, man, human being; and “zoon”, animal) is the science that studies the interactions between human beings and other animals , deepening their links and how they influence each other at a psychological level, physical and emotional. Throughout its history, human beings have lived with other animal species, both to feed themselves (eg, milk and meat from cows) and to hunt and protect themselves (eg, dogs). All of this is very easy to demonstrate just by looking at prehistoric murals around the globe, where everyday scenes between humans and animals are depicted.

But despite the fact that humans have benefited from animals since time immemorial, anthrozoology is a science whose origin is very recent, no more than fifty years. Despite this, it has burst into the current panorama intensely, especially with the objective of improving the dynamics between animals and humans, relationships that are very common in all societies, even in large cities.

The animals with which we have a greater degree of integration and bonding are companion animals, with dogs and cats being especially popular in Western countries. In fact, in the case of Spain, almost half of the homes have one of these two animals. Because they are found in so many families, it is necessary to know how the relationships that are established with them influence the health of the family in order to enhance their benefits and avoid their negative consequences.

Pathological relationships and abuse

One of the fields of study and intervention of anthrozoology is in those cases in which a pathological relationship with animals has developed, the case of Noah’s syndrome being especially important . The person who suffers from this pathology tends to accumulate many animals in their home, despite not having enough resources, time or knowledge to give them a good life. What is anthrozoology?

Regardless of how much you love them, animals enter a state of extreme neglect, with very little hygiene, wounds, parasites and diseases. Despite this and the smell that is emitted in the home, those affected by the syndrome are not able to recognize the poor condition in which their pets are. In addition, he is not aware that his own health is at risk since the feces and remains of the animals that have taken over the house attract all kinds of vermin and infectious diseases.

Also related to the welfare of animals, we have that anthrozoology deals with the cruel treatment of animals . Many people are not prepared or have the skills to have an animal in their home, or do not know what is the most appropriate way to treat them. This is why, unfortunately, there are not few cases of attacks on dogs and cats that end up being lethal. Many owners do not know how to educate their animals and, when they want the pet to stop behaving in a disruptive way, they seriously mistreat them.

The problem with these techniques is that on many occasions the animal becomes more hostile and less trainable, aggravating the already violent dynamics that occur in the home and causing the owners to end up abandoning their pet. As these animals have had a life of abuse, their behavior can be very unstable and, if found on the street, they can become a real danger for any pedestrian. It is in these cases that many dogs and cats end up being euthanized, seen as dangerous and very difficult to adopt.

However, the main reason why many animals are abandoned are the unexpected litters, in addition to discovering that that sweet and harmless kitten or puppy that they adopted, when growing up, is a totally different animal, more difficult to control and with greater needs. The family, overwhelmed by this new situation that they did not see coming, since they do not know how to handle the situation or find anyone who wants to adopt, be it a litter of 10 puppies or an already large dog, they decide to abandon them to their fate.

Although legal mechanisms exist in most developed countries to curb abandonment and take care of abandoned animals, there is still much awareness to be done. Anthrozoology not only aims to punish those who abuse and neglect animals, but also aims to create protocols that serve to prevent these situations , teaching how to avoid unexpected litters (sterilization) and educating to learn how to handle dogs and cats as that are growing. What is anthrozoology?

Urban colonies

Despite the fact that many people are aware of animal abandonment, especially of dogs and cats, the number of adoptions does not cope with the immense number of abandonments that occur. Many animals end up on the streets, trying to live as best they can and having a free life . The problem is that, contrary to what many owners may think, the life of the wild pet is hard since, despite being animals, they are domesticated species that depend a lot on human action.

Abandoned cats and dogs have a much shorter life expectancy than their home-based fellows. Both species are used to being brought in, sheltered and cleaned, the result of domestication by human action. Living one night on the street cannot reverse thousands of years of artificial evolution and selection. They will be wild animals, but they will continue to require their domestic needs and sooner or later they will die of hunger or disease.

If they survive, they may find other congeners of the opposite sex, fornicate and have wild litters. This is where we are facing a real problem, since the uncontrolled reproduction of dogs and cats, whose litters are numerous, pose a real public health problem. Its infant mortality is extremely high, with hundreds of dead puppies in the streets rotting, producing a bad smell and attracting all kinds of bugs and scavengers.

The more cats and stray dogs there are, the more potentially dangerous animals are on public roads. While cats tend to be more fearful of human presence, street-born dogs are more hostile, being able to attack at any time. In addition, they rummage through garbage, damage urban furniture and can attack domestic dogs and cats that are on balconies or walking with their owners.

Fortunately, these urban pet colonies can be put to good use for the health of the city. Although dogs are more dangerous, cats, under controlled numbers and with sanitary monitoring, can help control rodent pests, especially rats and mice. These cat colonies must be ethically managed, having properly planned sterilizations and, if possible, putting a microchip or localization system on them.

The importance of animals

As we mentioned, pets are more than a piece of furniture or a plant in the home: they are members of the family. In many houses dogs and cats are treated like the rest of the inhabitants of the home, giving them affection, pampering them, giving them gifts and so on . The presence of these furry friends has proven to be an important source of social capital, helping people to stay connected to their community, having a more open and prosocial attitude. What is anthrozoology?

Neighborhoods in which there is a high density of animal population per household are places where there is greater civility and neighborhood spirit, making neighbors collaborate more with each other. In addition, it is in these same neighborhoods where there are better health indicators. Pets promote social interaction and provide many advantages, although, of course, they can be a source of conflict between neighbors, especially due to issues such as barking or excrement on public roads.

This is why it is necessary to apply regulations that regulate and promote the circulation and care of companion animals, avoiding their abuse and neglect and enhancing their function as social capital. These animals can provide mental health through the bond between their owners and themselves , a phenomenon that has been seen to be universal. Their presence well managed, companion animals are an important protective factor against psychopathology and social conflicts.

Among its positive effects we have, on the physical side, that they help reduce heart diseases, especially because their presence can reduce blood pressure and stress. In turn, through the psychosocial way we have that pets are very good regulators and social catalysts, that is, they help us to socialize and bond with other people.

It is not uncommon to find that two people have become friends because one day they were walking down the street with their dogs, or that neighbors see a dog walker as a friendlier and more trustworthy person. Although colors are different for everyone, the vast majority of pets arouse positive emotions among their owners and friends, making it possible to even strengthen pre-existing relationships when a dog or cat is adopted. What is anthrozoology?

Healthier childhood

According to studies conducted by anthrozoology, the presence of an animal in the home is especially beneficial for children . It has been seen that contact with animals at an early age favors psychosocial and physical development. In addition, when children are going through a particularly difficult time on an emotional level they look to animals, which are sources of selfless support. Whether it is a dog, a cat, a parrot or a turtle, pets do not judge or criticize what the child has done, they are simply there and give their unconditional love.

In addition, the presence of companion animals favors the development of empathy and prosocial behavior and, also, helps them in their cognitive and linguistic development . Added to this, the children’s medical health is more resistant, presenting fewer allergies and less school absenteeism, since their immune system is more resistant, being less prone to contracting infectious diseases.

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