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Can an animal take the place of a child?

The numbers are sky high: 22.6 million dogs and cats lived in French homes in 2021, and their number has increased by 3.5 million in twenty years*. Above all, they have never been so spoiled by 20-35 year olds who seem to prefer mothering a puppy or kitten to making babies. A phenomenon that affects all Western countries, to such an extent that even Pope Francis will say in one of his prayers in January 2022 “sorry that pets sometimes replace children”. It must be said that young masters of social networks get into the habit of dressing up their four-legged friends and even take them for walks in strollers. According to Ifop, more than half of dog and cat owners, between the ages of 18 and 34, regularly post pictures and videos of their furry “child”, pugs in mind – these French bulldogs who owe their dazzling success, it is said, to their small body and their round eyes, which are a bit like those of infants… Cats and dogs also often have human first names: Marguerite, Gaspard, Romy or Michel. “But what is really new, specifies Christophe Blanchard**, sociologist, is the extreme responsibility that young adults show towards their animal. They want to know everything about its psychological and physical functioning in order to take better care of it .Like the child they are in no rush to have?

*Statista, 2022

**Author of Masters explained to their dogsArea

A great need for love

Parenthood is now delayed – in France, women have their first child at 30.9 on average, compared to 28 in 2015* – which could partly explain the desire to compensate with an animal before the thirties. Not to mention the economic and health crises, the isolation under lockdowns and eco-anxiety that highlight the phenomenon. It was in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis that Marion and Thomas, both 32, adopted Tom, a long-haired dachshund, and not just to get some fresh air in the middle of the curfew. “We had to have a little dog to pamper him, to cuddle him. Tom is kind of our baby!” recognizes Marion. This certainly fulfills a great need for love, but which also maintains – especially with a dog – a social and emotional bond for the most isolated, all studies confirm. Since taking care of Max, her 12-month-old Labrador, Camille, a 35-year-old bachelor, is doing better. “Without him, I’d spend my time working or staring at apps. Max brings me back to the concrete and thanks to him I met lots of ‘real’ people on the corner of my street”, she assures, before adding: “He will never disappoint me. With him there is no risk of ingratitude. Besides, I chose it. He is like a child, only better! »

*Insee, 2021

“It’s so good to be obeyed!” »

Camille shocks more than one with this claim. Let’s just say she’s not wrong to believe that a child will never be as malleable as Max the dog – and all the better. Tomcats, or doggies, if they are part of the family, have the distinction of evoking a sense of omnipotence that can be evoked by an infant as well – flattering their master’s ego in the process. With one dog in particular, a certain force is exerted (“Sit!”, “Lie down!”), we wonder (“Look how strong he is, how beautiful he is…”). It is renarcissistic and so good to be obeyed! “When you take care of an animal, you can’t help but feel emotions for it, as if it were a person, often a child, but that doesn’t mean that dog or pet cat owners really confuse the roles”, believes however . Pierre Jegou, behavioral therapist. “I have a dog and no children. It is sure that it fills what has been a void for me, but despite all that, I know how I can make a difference! “Céline, 42 years old, annoys.

A quest for redemption

Moreover, the animal not only fills a necessarily heavy emotional lack… For the anthropologist Jean-Pierre Digard, author of the book the French and their animals (Fayard), the enthusiasm of the youngest corresponds rather to a need that grows with the gradual loss of contact with nature. “In all hunting societies, men brought home the young of animals killed during the hunt, and these orphans were raised as children,” he explains. Somehow they balanced their act. It is somewhat the same today in our society with large animal slaughter, it may be that dogs and cats are unconsciously associated with releasing animals. We redeem ourselves for the damage caused by people…and by previous generations.

Force yourself to grow

If the animal relieves guilt, for Christophe Blanchard, it also strengthens. The sociologist describes an “adult” generation for whom “taking an animal is a way of forcing oneself to grow. This gives responsibility, poses limitations to which we will be able to respond or not. This is , what happened to Edouard, a 34-year-old bachelor, when Brad, his cat, entered his life. “Before I had no framework, I was still living as a teenager. Now I have to go home at fixed times to give him food, changing his litter, being with him. I learned to make concessions, sacrifices. I’ve lost count of the times I haven’t gone away on weekends to not leave him alone! Thanks to my cat, I discovered , that I wasn’t so selfish…” And that doesn’t calm Edouard himself!

A preparation for the life of parents?

We see it through “dogfishing”, this trend which, on dating sites in particular, consists of showing you off with your animal. For 25% of 18-24 year olds, a furry companion is an asset for seduction, as the animal gives its master an aura of seriousness and stability. So much so that 58% of women (versus 25% of men) say they are more attracted to a suitor accompanied by a doggy*. Fati, 30, confirms this: “When I saw Ali with Vrac, his magnificent blue-eyed Australian Shepherd, I immediately gained confidence. This gave him a solid and generous image of the ideal father! Often, in fact, the choice and desire to become mother to an animal as a kind of preparation for a future life as parents. A progress and a kind of test to see if the couple is strong enough. For Natacha and Vincent, for example, adopting their cat Lolita was a strong act: “It was a way of committing to each other without tying us down. If it doesn’t work out between us, we still don’t have to go before the judge to fight over his custody! (see box). For her part, Emilie, 30, says: “My boyfriend was very keen to adopt a dog, but then when it came to looking after it, he wasn’t into it at all. It didn’t give me confidence to have a child with him! “On the other hand, Marion and Thomas were able to transform the test into hope Tom the Dachshund isn’t too jealous…

*Fediaf European survey (The European animal feed industry), 2021

A law in Spain

In France, a law since 2016 has considered the animal as a sentient being, but it is up to the owners to handle its care if they are separated. On the other hand, in Spain, a law since 2021 gives the animal the same status as the child, especially in the case of divorce. Maintenance may be required, as custody is decided solely in the animal’s interest. Observers make the connection with the country’s low birth rate (1.23 children per woman in 2021 against 1.84 in France according to INSEE).




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