Pets Are Pets--Not Substitutes

One stereotype that dogs childless couples is that they have substituted pets for children.

Nonsense, says Carin Smith, co-founder of the organization Childless by Choice and owner of two cats and two dogs.

“Really, children are a substitute for pets,” she said.

One study of childless couples, by Jean E. Veevers in the book “Childless by Choice,” concluded that they don’t have pets with any greater frequency than other couples.


In her study, most childless couples’ attitudes about pets had nothing to do with their attitudes toward children. For those who did make a correlation, only a few seemed to have replaced kids with pets.

One middle-aged couple got a puppy, and friends gave them a baby book as a joke. But the couple filled in the statistics and pasted in photos. In time, they came to see that they had begun to view their pet as a child, Veevers writes.

Other childless couples in Veevers’ study found that their experiences with pets reinforced their decision not to have children.

That has been the case with several couples in Southern California who call themselves child-free.

When Amy Buch of Lake Forest was 17, she seriously considered becoming a single mother. Her mother, aghast, took her to the Humane Society and told her to pick out a puppy, which she would raise and thus realize the difficulty of taking care of a helpless creature.

Now 30, Buch has decided not to have children. The dog, Sebastian, 13, is a beloved member of the household.

“I call him my teen-pregnancy-prevention dog,” she said.

Long Beach residents Katey and Paul Johansen got their chocolate Labrador retrievers, Max and Herschel, in part to see whether they were firm in their decision not to have children.


Katey Johansen thought she was too impatient to deal with children. Handling two dogs showed her she was right, she said.

“I really enjoy the dogs,” she said. “But I’ve lost my patience with them a few times and it scares me. I don’t think they’re psychologically damaged, long term, but with a kid, it would be a different story.”