Nearly every child pesters for a pet at some point – and most parents give in – with the result that two thirds of German children grow up with at least one animal at home, wrote Die Welt newspaper over the weekend.
And as a child grows up, their pet can become a central figure, with nine out of ten eight-year-olds identifying their pets as one of their most important friends, according to a Forsa poll recently published in Mars Petcare's study “Dog-Cat-Human. The Germans and their pets.”
“Particularly in the early years of life, an animal serves as a bridge between the young child and their environment,” Jörg Maywald, head of kids' welfare network the German League for the Child told the paper.
One-in-three pre-schoolers and one-in-four German primary school pupils said they owned pets. A four-legged, winged or scaled buddy not only satisfies a child's need for play and activity, but can also act as a comforter, confidant and even a buffer against conflict between parents, said Maywald.
And even the trauma of burying Freddy the hamster in the back garden or flushing Goldie the goldfish down the toilet can teach young kids crucial life lessons about death and saying goodbye, the study found.
With a total of 22 million pets currently kept in German households - including 8.2 million cats and 5.4 million dogs - study authors say animals are also increasingly acting as a salve for adults' broken social links.
Pets are also increasingly popular with lonely or elderly people who find animals not only cheer them up, but give a sense and structure to their lives as well as a chance for physical contact and tenderness.
Growing numbers of young people living alone have pets, which can serve as an “emotional anchor” in an age of increasingly insecure, urban, virtual and flexible lifestyles, Peter Wippermann a Hamburg-based trend researcher told the paper.
“Since the familial contract between the generations has lost a lot of its binding force, pets are increasingly becoming a loving replacement for social relationships and also a placebo replacement for children and partners,” said Wippermann.