Adolescents & Their Pet’s Unconditional Love

*This post was originally published on July 10th, 2008 for The Prevention Researcher, a journal on adolescent development where I worked for almost 5 years.

In May I went to our local animal shelter to find a sibling for my dog Loki who is 1 ½ yrs old. I thought a new brother or sister would benefit Loki in many ways including exercise, play and companionship.

Loki (pitbull/boston terrier/chihuahua mix)

Loki (pitbull/boston terrier/chihuahua mix)

This process for me brought up a lot of memories of my childhood and adolescent years having had pets my entire childhood. The first dog I called my own was a chow chow named Bella. Bella was about 60lbs, full of black hair with a lovely purple tongue. I got Bella for Christmas when I was in third grade. She and I quickly became companions starting with walks to the filbert orchards, puppy training class, and soon after showing her in dog shows. As a teenager one of my favorite things to do with her was going to the river to swim- which I found especially cool because chows supposedly are not fans of water.

Bella & I at a dog show, I was in 4th grade here.

Bella & I at a dog show, I was in 4th grade here.

Recently, I started looking for articles on adolescents and their attachment to their pets. One article, The Child-Animal Bond by Sally O. Walshaw noted in a survey of 300 children ages 3 to 13, that pets provided a source of learning, happiness, comfort, and unconditional love. A pet’s love can be less complicated, thus allowing teenagers to feel that unconditional love and physical contact. As a teenager I did not hug my parents much, but I can remember holding Bella and hugging her a lot after a rough day. Walsh also pointed out how adolescents with no siblings can feel especially close to their pets, I can imagine this could also be helpful when siblings leave the house and other siblings are left at home, or when there are large age differences between siblings-pets can help fill that gap.

The 2nd article I read, by Kathryn Wilks,

points out the health benefits of having pets from exercise, companionship, and attachment. Noted here is that adolescents see pets as supportive resources particularly during times of stress and many adolescents will confide in their pets. I can remember developing my own music tastes around 12 and 13 years of age. My parents complained about what I was listening to, sometimes teasing and making fun, so having Bella there in my room with me listening with me, accepting me for who I was at that point was very important to me. This reminds me HOW important it is to be heard AND feel loved. Especially at that the adolescent stage in our lives where we are trying very hard to define and love ourselves. I wonder how many other people have felt the same way? Do you have a story that is similar?