Pet pamperers aren't necessarily eccentric, lonely people with nothing better on which to spend their time and money, says a North Carolina researcher who studies bonding between humans and animals.
Instead, they're just lucky people whose personalities and circumstances mesh perfectly with their animal's, says Jan Dunlap, a professor of education at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., and director of the Pets and People Foundation."There is something about pets and people where, if you find just the right pet and just the right person, the bonding is exceedingly close and almost instant," she said. "It's something that doesn't happen very often.
"We don't have enough research yet to tell you why."
Still, Dunlap has found certain personality types more likely to pamper their pets.
"People who are fundamentally people-oriented in the first place are more likely to also be pet-oriented," she said. "People who have a basic distrust of people - your delinquents, people who are turned off from life and the world - also tend to often trust pets."
Circumstances and lifestyle also determine who is likely to pamper an animal, Dunlap says.
Loneliness is indeed often a factor, particularly among the elderly. Pets become important companions.
Loss - of a spouse, a parent or even another pet - can also trigger an intense bonding with an animal. "It's filling a void," Dunlap says. "A pet may come into a family at just the right time to fill something else that was very important."
Childless families also frequently pamper pets, she said.
But sometimes, no pampering goes on because the pet simply won't allow it. Pets, like people, have personalities, and some are uncomfortable being too close to a human.
"If someone thinks they want a pet very, very badly and can't wait to get their hands on it, and then it arrives and the little thing promptly hides under the chair, it may be that the personality of that pet is just like a shy person," Dunlap says.