Is Fido Family?

Many readers will know what I mean when I say that my English Setter mix, Ellie, was my “heart dog.” I adopted her from the Raleigh Humane Society when I was in veterinary school. She was with me through vet school, marriage, and the birth of my two children. When she died on May 7, 1999, she was the closest “person” I had ever lost in my life. It was the night before my daughter’s first birthday party, which became half party and half wake. I keep her Christmas picture on my desk at work, and it reminds me every day how much a human can love their pet. So, if you ask me if pets are family, you will get a resounding yes!

According to a 2017 survey from the American Pet Products Association, Inc., 68% of all U.S. households have at least one pet. I’m surprised that number is not higher. The average household has 1.5 dogs, two cats, and a smattering of birds, fish, reptiles and horses. Ten percent of dog owners buy health insurance for their canine, while five percent of cat owners provide the same. Many have regular veterinary appointments, and some even seek specialized care for their pets like acupuncture, massage, and specialty services such as knee surgery and cardiology.

Also, pet owners are paying more attention to their animals’ diets. They search for organic options and fresher foods, and more than ever, people are cooking for their pets. Some even plan birthday parties with cakes, hats and party favors! Life’s celebrations are shared with these furry family members. You can buy a Christmas outfit, a Halloween costume, or just a nice sweater to keep your dog warm and fashionable. I regularly see pictures from my clients and customers who have celebrated with their animals on a special occasion. One great customer sent me a picture of her dog at the campsite eating a doggie s’more. Our pets participate in so many aspects of our lives.

Another trend that is becoming more common is folks traveling with their pets. Here in Asheville we have dog friendly hotels, restaurants, shops, and breweries where a dog can spend a lovely weekend with his human companions. Some restaurants even have special dog menus, so that Fido can have a meal too. People enjoy spending time with their pets, and Asheville businesses are making that easier. I often hear tourists say how surprised they are that Asheville is so dog friendly. Of course, we are friendly here in the mountains!

We bring pets into our lives for many reasons. As an animal person, there are days I simply prefer the company of my dog to a human. Having a companion who is always happy to see me, sits me with I’m sad or worried, and loves me unconditionally is a very nice gift. We enjoy buying them presents, rewarding them with special treats, and going on adventures like hiking or sailing with them.

We do a lot for our pets, and they provide benefits for us in return. In addition to being loyal companions, pets provide stress relief. Several studies have shown that owning a pet lowers a person’s blood pressure and increases cardiovascular health. Because pets require regular care, they get us out of the house to walk them and play with them, which increases our exercise time. There are some studies that suggest that children who grow up in households with pets have stronger immune systems and a lower incidence of allergies. Pets are definitely good for our health!

With all the benefits and mutual affection we share, the question of whether pets are family or not seems easy to answer. They live with us and love us. We celebrate birthdays and holidays, and they comfort us when we need a warm nose kiss or a gentle snuggle. My Ellie has been gone for many years, but I still think of her often. The grief that we feel when we lose a pet is very real. I reached out online to others who participated in pet grief forums, and found it was very helpful to share my feelings with others who understood the pain. Even more resources are available today, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you need a listening ear.

Now my animal family consists of two dogs and two parrots, along with my two human children. I guess we are a little like Noah’s Ark. Just recently I found some old Christmas videos, and Ellie was there running through the packaging and sticking her nose into each box. Was she a part of my family? In many ways, she still is.

Beth Hampton Jones is a veterinarian who owns Asheville Animal Acupuncture and Three Dog Bakery downtown. You can reach her at 828-450-0851 or through her website at

Written by Beth Jones, DVM