Health

Having Children is Overrated

More couples are opting for pets instead.

by Joanne Spataro
Feb 27 2017, 3:00pm

Image: Marija Mandic / Stocksy

Giselle, 26, and her boyfriend Taylor, 25, wanted to make a special Christmas card of their family last year. The Charlotte-based couple, who've been together since high school, created a portrait with their nine-year-old child. They had her pose in a jaunty red scarf next to a Christmas tree not much bigger than her. "Happy Holidays" and "Feliz Natal" (Merry Christmas in Portuguese) were written in script on the card. The baby's photo took up almost half the card and she wasn't even looking into the camera. Their child's name is Scotch. She's an orange tabby cat.

Giselle and Taylor are pretty happy with their decision to replace a potential human child with one that won't swindle them out of $200,000 in college tuition. Fellow Latinas keep touting the joys of motherhood to Giselle, but she remains unfazed, spoiling Scotch with toys (including a motorized water bowl) and love without worrying about him talking back or growing up to be an entitled mooch. "I'm still on the fence about maybe adopting, but I definitely don't want to have biological kids at all," Giselle says. "That's just a whole lot of medical stuff I'm not ever prepared to deal with." Women in her family have experienced pregnancy complications, she says, and she doesn't feel able to take on that physically draining experience.

The number of Americans buying small dogs doubled in the US between 1990 and 2012, per the Center for Disease Control/National Vital Statistics System. This number has risen while birth rates have fallen by 10 percent since 2007.

Most of these kinds of couples with dog or cat children live in metro areas. The three major cities in which fewer than 20 percent of homes contain children are Seattle, Washington, DC, and San Francisco.  A January 2017 New York Times article reported that in San Francisco, there are are an equal number of dogs as human babies: 120,000 to be exact. Outlandish housing costs, along with a public school system that's not the greatest, means there isn't much incentive to have children in San Fran.

As for how statistical comparisons between households with pets or children stack up in Seattle, Washington, DC, and San Francisco: In 2013, the US Census Bureau ranked Seattle as one with the highest percentage of cats and dogs (54.7 percent) while only 19.7 percent had kids. San Francisco came in second with about 44 percent of households having cats or dogs while 18.7 percent had kids. Last but still telling was DC, with almost 20 percent of households having kids while about 28 percent had cats or dogs. And the trend seems to have grown since then.

Couples with a fur baby experience similar psychological and physiological effects as those with a human one. Michelle A. Coomes, a marriage and family therapist in North Carolina, sees this in many of her coupled clients with pets. "Oxytocin is [a hormone] that's released when you have a close relationship, such as if you're breastfeeding or cuddling an infant. Pet parents have similar experiences when they're snuggling their fur babies," she says. "Pets can really connect couples together and form stronger bonds as pet parents, which is very similar to parenting children."

California couple Cassandra Van Zandt, a professor, and Victor Van Zandt, a VP of a nonprofit, admit they spoil and love their animal baby as much as you could a human child without fearing the bratty consequences. They bought a trailer dubbed "the Jagdhundwagen" ("hound wagon" in German) so they could comfortably take along their almost five-year-old dog whenever they travel. Their pooch also has a bed on every floor of their four-story home. Both of them love their jobs and often work long hours, but are more inclined to cut back on office time now that their fur child is around.

"Couples who genuinely want to have a pet and there's not a lot of ambiguity about whether they want to have a child or not—they can be just as happy and feel as fulfilled in life nurturing a pet rather than a child," Coomes says. Committed, too: Cassandra says she'd leave work with no hesitation to care for her pet. "We've had her for four and a half years and we've turned into those ridiculous dog parents. But we also love that we can leave the house for several hours at a time and leave her behind," she says. "Even though it felt like a big decision to have another being to care for, we recognize it's a way lower-stakes relationship than kids."