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Last updateFri, 19 Jun 2020 7pm

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For the Love of Pets!

What Happens When Your Pets Take Over Your Life


default article imageAnthony Salvatore, six-feet-tall and 250 pounds, is crouching on the ground holding a loaf of stale bread in his hand with a smile plastered across his face. “Here ducks! Here ducky ducky!” he calls, as nine brown ducks come hopping up to him from Indian Lake, to eat out of his hand. No, this is not Tony Soprano, this is a 47-year-old plumber from Denville, New Jersey.

Anthony has only had his ducks for three years, but said that he considers them as his children. Ironically enough, he has two daughters, 20 and 17, whom he bought the ducks for in the first place. Anthony has a cat as well, and has had numerous dogs and other animals as pets before, but he said that nothing has ever compared to his ducks, although he cannot explain why.

“My kids argue with me and don’t believe anything that I tell them,” he said. “But my ducks see me as their protector. They look at me with love in their eyes. Plus, I don’t have to give them money for the movies on Saturday night.”

Every day, Anthony drives the five miles to the lake to feed his ducks, whom he has never named, and then watches them eat because it calms him down. He said that he likes to know where they are at all times so he does not have to worry about their safety.

His 17-year-old daughter, Deanna, said that her dad is always either sleeping, working, or playing with his ducks. “He compares me to the ducks,” she said. “He will say, ‘Oh, the ducks wouldn’t be complaining.’ He doesn’t have time to do things for me because he is too busy being with them.”

Deanna still finds it endearing because liking animals is a good quality for a person to have, and “he doesn’t have a lot of them, so it’s good to have at least one.” Plus, as she said, the less that he is concerned about her then the more she can get away with, like not doing her homework and going out with her friends.

However, Tom McCarthy, University psychologist, said that obsession with animals could be a sign of depression or anxiety. “If people are lacking social skills and they are struggling to be accepted, pets can give them that and offer them a lot emotionally. But, people can get obsessed and cross a certain line.”

Anthony said, “Animals like me. My ducks believe everything that I tell them. My ducks think I’m cool and they like to hang out with me. I don’t really like people anyway.” He also said that although he is a very happy person, he does have high levels of anxiety due to his 60-hour work week.

McCarthy said that the line of obsession is tough to define, but he thinks that this occurs when a pet consumes a person’s life. Sometimes, this can occur as a result of “empty nest syndrome,” since pets help fill a void for people. Anthony’s older daughter, who is 20, left home to go to college one hour away two years ago. She now sees her father once every two months because she has lived with her mother for the past ten years, a half an hour away, and does not make much free time for her father.

It is not common for people to be obsessed with their pets, said McCarthy, but it is common for people to feel a special connection with their animals because they enjoy the unconditional love they are provided.

Donna Roth, 43, is a Technology teacher at Great Meadows Middle School in New Jersey. She has had a dog, Buster, for four years and a cat, Tristan, for two years, whom she also said she loves as much as her children.

“I became more maternal once I had kids. I count on my animals now for love and affection, just like I would my kids. I love them just as much because they have personalities just like people, and they love me back.”

Donna’s two children, 19 and 21, are both away at college, so she spends most of her time with her animals. She said that she feels bad if she goes out too much on the weekends, which she considers as anything more than six hours in a 48-hour weekend, so she prefers to stay home with them when she is not at work.

Donna said that her boyfriend, Gerry, finds her love of animals endearing, and he helps her take care of the animals, going as far as to stop in to check on them during a weekday while she is at work. She also buys a new toy for them about once every two weeks.

But, Donna said that she would not feel the same way about just any pet. “Other people’s pets are smelly, and I just think ‘Ew, gross.’ But I connect with my own. My love has grown for them, just like a person.”

McCarthy said that in some cases, being obsessed with pets is a symptom of a more pressing psychological issue, such as agoraphobia, which is the fear of leaving one’s home. “To work with these people, I would first want to determine the purpose of their behavior. Are they staying in the house rather than going out prior to having the pet or because of it?”

However, he also said that he would never recommend for someone who is obsessed with their pet to get rid of it right away.

If having the pet is their only coping method for an underlying psychological issue, then removing the pet right away could be detrimental to their emotional health. So, to work with them, McCarthy recommends psychological counseling one-on-one with a therapist and antidepressants.

Both Donna and Anthony said that they do not feel like their obsessions with their pets are unhealthy. Anthony said that he is happy, so he does not see the problem. Donna said, “They need me just as much as I need them.”

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