Does Pope Francis Recommend Families Have Children Over Pets?

by Patrick Mahaney on July 30, 2014

Does Pope Francis Recommend Families Have Children Over Pets?This article originally appeared on Dr. Mahaney’s Pet-Lebrity News column on as Does Pope Francis Recommend Families Have Children Over Pets? 

The Guardian recently posted an interesting article titled Pope tells married couples: have children, not pets in which Pope Francis states that humankind would be better off if we instead focused on procreation instead of incorporating pets into the family fold. I was intrigued by his statements, in which he admonishes married couples choosing to not procreate that their senior years will be afflicted by “the bitterness of loneliness.”

Evidently, modern society has caused people to foster a “culture of wellbeing” where couples choose to have “fur kids” instead of “human kids.” During a special mass for 15 couples married for 25 to 60 years, Francis stated “this culture of wellbeing…convinced us it’s better not to have children. It’s better! That way you can see the world, go on holidays; you can have a house in the country and be carefree. Maybe it is better, more convenient, to have a little dog, two cats; and the love goes to the two cats and the little dog.”

Couples lacking kids are seemingly destined to a less-than-fulfilling existence than those having children. Francis said “eventually this marriage gets to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness. It is not fertile; it does not do what Jesus does with his church: he makes it fertile.”

Yet, research has shown that people who keep companion animals often have reduced levels of mental illnesses and improved physical health.  I recently attended an intriguing talk titled “Pets in the Family: Impact on Human Health — Zooeyia” given by Dr. Kate Hodgson, DVM, MHsSs, CCEMP at the 2014 BlogPaws conference where statistics provided by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation (HABRI) counter against The Pope’s claims.

Pets and People

Hodgson’s lecture inspired me to write an an article for petMD’s The Daily Vet (The Link Between Pets and Human Health) sharing some of what I feel are most relevant points as to how pets contribute to the physical and mental health betterment of their human caretakers, including:

Pets Can Be Catalysts for Harm Reduction — Like Smoking Cessation

We all know that smoking is harmful to the smoker and those directly exposed to second-hand smoke. This includes our companion canines and felines, who are also prone to the ill effects of third-hand smoke which leaves toxic residues on our clothes and environmental surfaces. Pets groom themselves and can ingest toxins from their fur or paws simply through efforts to keep themselves clean.

According to Tobacco Control 2009: 0:1-3: “The dangers of pet exposure to second-hand smoke is motivation to owners to quit or attempt to quit smoking, motivate household members to quit, and to forbid smoking inside the home.” Abstaining from smoking certainly makes one less-prone to a variety of ailments, all of which negatively impact quality of life, are expensive to treat, and can certainly cause one to live in a less-than-happy state.

So, having pets attributes to cessation of smoking which improves mental health. Go pets!

Pets Can Be Motivators of Healthy Lifestyle Choices — Like Physical Exercise

Pets, especially dogs, can be great motivation for owners to increase their physical activity.

The PPET (People Pets Exercising Together) Study showed that owners who regularly exercised with their dogs stuck with their workout plan as compared to participants lacking canine companionship during exercise.

Obesity rates on the rise in the United States and worldwide on a yearly basis, the presence of a pet to get a person up, out, and active can help to fight against the variety of potentially irreversible health consequences associated with being overweight or obese. Such health concerns are taxing on the afflicted individual and certainly will lead to a depressed mindset. Sounds like having a pet that motivates one to be active is a means of combating obesity related depression. Again, go pets!

Pets Can Be a Therapeutic Intervention to Treat Illness — Helping to Manage Stress, Anxiety, or Depression

The presence of a pet in the household can provide an owner with mental health benefits, including a sense of attachment, emotional and social well-being, and decreased feelings of isolation occurring during psychiatric illness. According to Hypertension, 2001: 38:815-820: “Pets provide non-judgemental social support intervention that buffers pathogenic responses to stress.” Cat ownership “significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and associated death,” as gently stroking your furry friend’s back has relaxing and blood pressure-lowering effect.

Although I am don’t disagree with The Pope about the importance of procreation for interested couples (or single people), I feel that to go as far as saying that having a pet instead of a child will turn one into a bitter curmudgeon is a bit extreme. I certainly feel quite content with my choice to not have a human child and plan on keeping pets so that I can continue to invest in my personal “culture of wellbeing.”

How do you feel?

Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).
Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.

Copyright of this article (2014) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format

Share This
  Print This Print This Tweet ThisTweet This

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: