Can a person become too attached to an animal?
Several years ago, we posed an interesting question to our online newsletter readers. Although most of us animal lovers view our pets as members of the family, we asked if it is possible to become too attached to an animal companion. If so, what are the warning signs?
One reader thought that a warning sign of becoming obsessively attached or having a deeper emotional problem was when people cut themselves off from any human companionship.
She wrote, “People who have more of an interest in animals should at least try to help out at their local animal shelter, join a breed-rescue group, or try to socialize animals to visit nursing homes/hospitals so that others benefit from their love of animals.”
Some readers thought that there are other examples of becoming overly attached to animals or confusing love with neediness. They gave examples of someone who takes on more animals than he or she can handle.
For example, maybe a person can’t give enough individual attention to dozens of cats who all need vet visits, food, litter, and a clean environment. Or someone loves horses but doesn’t have the pastureland, food, or time to groom and exercise them.
Readers also thought that excessive grieving could be an indication of a person’s greater feelings of isolation. One reader wrote that she took a year off work when her animal companion died. During that time, though, she channeled her grief into rescuing over forty dogs and finding new homes for them.
A reader named Robin wrote the following letter to express her opinion that being too attached to animals is a difficult thing to judge.
“People have many different reasons for turning to their animal companions for love and validation. There may have been a time when I myself might have fallen into this category.
“As I struggled through years of infertility and pregnancy loss, my pet rabbits became the children that I couldn’t give birth to. I took the loss of my pets very hard, and it affected me deeply in ways I felt not many people understood.
“It is easy to displace our feelings onto our pets, and they are more than willing to receive our attention and devotion. I’m one who can completely understand a deeper connection with an animal companion. I think we all have a need to feel needed and necessary.
“Sometimes we hit rough areas in our lives that aren’t being filled by the humans in our world and often turn to animal companions to fill our emotional needs. I have found that instead of becoming isolated, my animal companions kept me connected to the world.
“I am not able to make a spiritual distinction between a human companion and an animal companion. In my heart the love, given and received, feels the same.
“So I suppose my answer to the question would be that I don’t feel it’s possible to become ‘too’ attached to an animal companion.
A reader named Patti Ann wrote, “How many people do you know who will still greet you with great enthusiasm, if you woke up in the morning with your hair sticking out all over the place, bags under your eyes (or wrinkle cream still white on your face like a ghost), looking like a beast from under the sea, bad breath, grumpy as all the dickens?
“Or what if you were dirt-poor homeless? Animals would still honor and love you as if you were a king or queen and stay with you till the dying end.”
To answer to question about excessive attachment to animals it helps to ask further questions.
Does your relationship with an animal keep you away from friends, family, work, play, hobbies, or responsibilities such as taking care of kids, jobs, foods, or health? Is your life in balance?
Do you have a spiritual understanding of the animal as an individual who must develop his or her own personality and may have needs that are different from yours?
Rather than offering solace and comfort, has your relationship with an animal companion become a way of permanently avoiding the problems in your life?
How well adjusted and content are the animals in your care? Are you able to give them the time and attention they need?
One thing we’ve concluded is that if you are not hurting yourself or any other animal or person, then it’s really no one’s business that a cat or dog or rabbit or iguana means the world to you.
On the other hand, if you hear from EVERYBODY that you’ve gone overboard, you might want to at least consider finding other outlets for your love and devotion, including taking excellent care of yourself and the human relationships in your life.
What do you think? Is it possible to become too attached to an animal?
Allen and Linda Anderson
Angel Animals Network