VEGA News Item

Counting Dogs and Cats – and Us - 18/02/2010

Populations as Fillers of Society

1.  A random sample of 1980 households in the UK in 2007 showed that 26% and 31% of households owned cats and dogs, respectively.  Households with gardens were likelier to own cats and dogs than households without gardens.  Households in which someone was qualified to degree level were likely to own cats and less likely to own dogs than other households.  Cats were likelier to be owned by semi-urban rural households and by female respondents to a big survey carried out by researchers based in the Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford House, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU, and reported in the Veterinary Record (2010) 166, 163-168.  A vet from the National Cat Centre, Haywards Heath Centre, Sussex RH17 7TT was also involved.

2.  Dog ownership significantly decreased the likelihood of cat ownership, and correspondents aged 65 years or more were less likely to report that their household owned a cat than younger respondents.  Households with one or more dogs and children aged 11 to 15 years were likelier to own a cat than other households.  The likelihood of dog ownership increased as household size increased. Dogs were likelier to be owned by rural households, and less likely to be owned by households with cats or children aged 10 years or younger.  Female respondents and those aged less than 55 years, were likelier to report ownership than other respondents in the UK and in 2006 amounted to about 103 million cats and 10.5 million dogs.

3.  The latest review was designed to give the means to monitor trends and set up comparisons with populations of people, cats and dogs in the UK, Australia, and North America.  Data for the British review were collected between 16th July 2007 and 16 December 2007, using a telephone questionnaire. A total of 13,795 household telephone numbers were used and contact was made with people from 8961 households.  Questionnaires were completed by 2980 households, representing a 33% response rate from households with which contact had been made.

4.  Most (58%) of households owning cats had only 1 cat (443/760); 29% (223/760) owned 2 cats, 7.2% (55/760) owned 3 cats, 2.1% (16/760) owned 4 cats, 1.4% (11/760) owned 5 cats, and 1.6% (12/760) owned between 6 and 12 cats.

5.  Most (73%) of households owning dogs had only 1 dog (668/911), 19% (172/911) owned 2 dogs, 4% (36/911) owned 3 dogs, 2% owned 4 dogs, 1% (9/911) owned 5 dogs and 1% owned between 6 and 17 dogs.  A total of 7% of households (210/2975) owned both 1 or more cats and 1 or more dogs.  As the size of human populations within the UK has increased between 2001 and 2006, the populations of cats and dogs are also estimated to have risen over this period of time.

6.  Anecdotal reports have suggested that the number of pet cats exceeds the number of pet dogs in the UK.  Most of the earlier estimates were calculated from data collected by the pet-food manufacturers; however, results from the present study suggest that these reports may be inaccurate, as no evidence was found to support this hypothesis.  The authors state: “The proportion of households owning cats and dogs in the present study was greater than the proportion owning cats (20%) and dogs (29%) reported in a US study….suggesting that cat and dog ownership may be more popular in the UK than the USA, although any trends of ownership during the recent years in the USA are unknown.”

7.  The UK study did not cover populations of cats and dogs not owned.  Estimating the numbers of stray/feral cats in the UK and elsewhere is particularly difficult, but knowledge of the size of this population is important as these cats interact with ‘owned’ cats and may therefore play an important role in the transmission of infectious diseases and the breeding of domestic cats.  The authors of the UK report rate the size of the non-owned populations as a challenging test worthy of future research.

8.  The Veterinary Record account abounds in statistics and interesting facts: for instance, “as the number of people within a household increased, however, households with children aged 10 years or younger were nearly half as likely as households without children in this age group to own 1 or more dogs.” The authors state: “These results might reflect the amount of time involved in exercising a dog and that this commitment is more easily fulfilled if there are more people within the household to share dog-walking duties and less easily fulfilled if young children are present in the household.”  Further observations report findings that “contradict the widely-held belief that many families acquire a dog for the purposes of educating their children about pet ownership, at least at such a young age.”  In contrast, no evidence was found for a significant association between household size and cat ownership.”

9.  There is no specific mention of cats and dogs to deter or kill unwanted  invaders, such as rats and mice and squirrels, doing their nastiest business out  of sight, like some other functions, while commending prime positions on the  rugs in the lounge.

10.  Households containing 1 or more members who had achieved a university   degree were 1.36 times likelier to own a cat than other households.  This association has not been fully explained. In the USA 2 studies conducted mentioned the presence of household allergens and cat allergens and “socioeconomic” factors as being likelier to be present in households where the mother had a higher level of education and in areas of low levels of poverty than in households where the mother had a lower level of education or in areas of high levels of poverty, respectively.  Support thus exists for the suggestion that socioeconomic factors are associated with cat ownership. In contrast, households with a higher level of academic qualification (degree level) were less likely to own a dog than households whose highest level of qualification was below degree level.  This is another “unclear association”, but “it could be related to occupations requiring higher qualifications being associated with longer working hours and therefore less time available for care of a dog.”

11.  Cats and dogs being popular pets in the UK, the authors of the latest census of the populations (which include the size of the human sort) describe their reliable estimates of the size of cat and dog populations as “useful to those working within the animal health and welfare professions, including rescue charities, vets, pet insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and pet food manufacturers.”  All the authors except one were paid by the Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol. Cats Protection funds the remaining post.

12.  Other uses for the statistics may be seen as calculations essayed on carbon footprints, gaseous emissions and for assessing possibilities for taxing purposes.  Numbers of smaller animals including, say, rabbits, ferrets, and rodents, as well as birds and fish, are also omitted.  Animals kept in captivity for experimental purposes and for applications in leisure activities, racing, and certain “sports” and in circuses, zoos, and petting farms and sanctuaries are also excluded.  Animal welfarists are aiming at the highest standards required for populations covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Home Office and that allowances for feral and “managed” wildlife be made.  “Ownership” of animals must demand better and ever-increasing levels of monitoring, handling, and upkeep of companion animals and those bred for shows and competitions.  Revisions of the regulations for animals kept for shows such as Crufts are at least receiving due attention.

13.  At a recent AGM of the Soil Association the pupils and staff had been filmed with “their” animals. The farmer took the objective view: “The children like feeding and cuddling the animals and eating them afterwards,” he said, with none of the hesitation that kind and loving expressions of tenderness are expected from the elders of the organic movement. At least, we can claim some success in an event well catered for in a veggy manner, unfortunately confused by misleading divisions and complications over definitions of the words vegetarian and vegan; however, only 2 of the 350 participants who ate at the conference registered as full veggies, abjuring the milk of human  unkindness.

14.  Prize-winning schools are taking an increasingly commercial view on animals reared for teaching, as well as food for which tricky disconnections have to be erected to accommodate the transition from immature concepts of “love” and the hateful deeds of killing – better a meal of herbs….in Proverbs.  The constructs of myths and religiosity, like the existence and activities of Father Christmas and the stork blur the honest expression of love and mercy and the frank facts of biology, life, and death, and shame many civilized parents.  VEGA is beginning to find more support for silent or prompted Graces before official and communal feasts and other events at which the farm-to-fork connexions might be minded with respect and reverence.  Many years ago we sought a display of announcements in doctors’ and vets’ waiting rooms of straightforward reminders of the debts we human animals owe to the other livestock killed and tortured in the pursuit of our own comfort, convenience, and greed.  It received no support.  It might still be worth a trial, and certainly worthier than futile displays of spite on the one hand or indifference on the other.

15.  It also chimes in with the insincerity and misuse of words such as love, mangled in meaning and consequence by Tin Pan Alley, and facile expressions of liking love and the admiration of motherhood expressed in sermons focussed on the 23rd Psalm have no relevance to the ewe trying to bring her lambs into the world unmolested in ridiculously unapt conditions in the today’s well-named Less Favored Areas.  Still worse, when these false lovers address themselves to a meal of mutton, for which Prince Charles recommends a love of this violated creature whose tenderized remains end up with a message of rape rather than reaping, attended by other lickspittles purporting to be defenders of all the faiths.  And we have no real evidence that Professor Dawkins is innocent of this farce!



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