While some choose to raise pets to see if they can handle bringing up another human life, others view their pets as their children and are going above and beyond to ensure they live their best lives.
Nearly a quarter of pet-owning couples (24%) surveyed in California say they’re prioritizing pets over human parenthood.
Perhaps even more surprising, 57% admitted to considering the health benefits of their pets’ food more than their own, per the study.
Valencia resident Andrew Simmons gets extremely animated when talking about the furry family he has with his wife, Vanessa.
“We’ve always agreed that we weren’t planning on having children — well, human ones at least,” Simmons said. “It’s just not something we ever envisioned for ourselves.”
Their little family began as just the two of them, but quickly grew to include two Labradors and a golden retriever.
“I can honestly admit that it feels like they’re my kids,” Simmons added. “I take care of them every day, I get worried when they’re sick. I came from a family of five, and it doesn’t feel any different than the family I’ve got now.”
Acton resident Tricia Pascoe agrees, adding that she feels fulfilled.
“I’ve never had that maternal instinct where ‘The clock is ticking,’ that type of thing — it just never crossed my mind,” Pascoe said.
When Pascoe was around 30, when she believes most people have children, she asked herself if it was something that she wanted.
“There’s more negative in the world than positive,” she added. “So, I decided I’m happy the way my life is, and I made the decision that I wanted to help animals and give them the life they deserve, because they can’t speak for themselves.”
Araya, a 6-year-old pitbull mix, and King, a 5-year-old pitbull-Labrador mix, were Pascoe’s second set of dogs.
“King was the most gentle soul ever,” she said. “And Araya is my wildfire — I call her 50 pounds of fury. She’s the queen of the house.”
When King was diagnosed with lymphoma, Pascoe tried everything to save him.
“I would have put my house up for a second mortgage to save his life, but the cancer was just so aggressive,” she said. “So on Aug. 14, we had to put him to sleep, and that really wrecked our lives.”
Pascoe’s boyfriend didn’t grow up around animals like she did, so he’d never gone through the pain of losing an animal and the death hit him hard.
Since then, the pair adopted Diesel, a 9-month-old pitbull, so that Araya wouldn’t be alone, and have been enjoying the milestones of puppyhood.
“It’s like teaching a kid to go potty,” she said, chuckling. “We throw a party like it’s the best thing in the world, and it’s the best feeling.”
Pascoe said she can tell Diesel is thankful to be out of the shelter after almost two months.
“We can tell how grateful he is,” she added. “He knows that we broke him out of jail, and he has the best home, best love anyone can give him. He shows his gratitude every day when we get home.”
Though he may be single, Bryce Reed, a Valencia resident, said he knows he will never have kids other than his cat, German shepherd and husky mix.
“I’m closer to my animals than I am my family,” Reed said, which the survey said is true for 38% of Californians. “They just understand me and give me the unconditional love that everyone should have in their lives. I can’t see me finding this type of feeling elsewhere.”
All of Reed’s animals had been previously abused, so he said it took him a while to gain their trust.
“Once I got it though, there was no going back,” he said.
“I think it’s great that people are considering that more,” said Nancy Anderson, founder of The Brittany Foundation, a no-kill dog rescue, adding, “especially when dogs can belong to an adult family because of abuse or neglect.”
Giving his animals a home where they are the primary focus is all Reed wants in the world.
“I want them to know that they are loved,” he added.
For Merry Jayne Machado, a Canyon Country resident, having kids of her own wasn’t an option after she was diagnosed with cancer at 27, and she decided to get “fixed,” as she calls it.
Now at 52, Sir Frodo Baggins, her Italian greyhound-miniature pinscher, Boomerang, her parrot, and Gwen, her leopard gecko are her children.
“I don’t miss not having children,” Machado said. “My kids have four legs and feathers, fur, scales — everything.”
She rescued Sir Frodo back in 2012, and he is now her emotional support animal who helps her with her post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He’s been with me ever since that day, ups and downs, deaths in the family and he’s given me a new perspective on life,” she added. “It’s rewarding, and I’m happy.”
And he might be what some consider “spoiled.” He sleeps on the bed with his own little bed and his own little blankets, like 56% of other pets that sleep next to their owners at night, per the survey.
“We take care of our pets as we would do our children, if not more, because the unconditional love that we receive is incredible,” Machado said.
And Sir Frodo has also helped her realize her passion for rescuing dogs. She now helps with various rescue groups, including the “Lost & Found Pets of SCV” Facebook group.
Dr. Kathy Peters, a local veterinarian, said she, too, has noticed the increase in pet parents through the years.
“It used to be that younger couples who were just starting out would tell me that this was their ‘trial run,’ but now I’ve heard more and more tell me that they’re planning on staying pet parents forever,” Peters said.
Canyon Country resident Shannon Barr is no exception.
“I live with my fiancé, and we have two chow chows,” she said. “Frankles, my male, is a mama’s boy. He is 90 pounds of wanna-be lap dog. Adelaide, our female, is daddy’s little girl and follows my fiancé around.”
They also have “half a cat” — Booty, their cat who escaped, but still makes an appearance every now and again for food.
Barr grew up in a large family, and not only did she frequently babysit her siblings, she also became a teaching assistant at 18.
“I feel like an old soul, and I got stuck in my ways real quick,” she said. “But I’ve already done my time with kids. I like living like an old couple.”
So for Barr, the decision to remain a pet parent was a conscious one.
“Girls talk babies, but that was not really what I want to do in my life,” she said. “When we started dating, I told him, ‘I really like dogs, but no babies: Are you cool with that?’”
Though she doesn’t want to have kids, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t treat her dogs as such.
“Our dogs are super spoiled,” she said, adding that Frankles has allergies, so all his meals are home-cooked, while Adelaide has every color bow you could imagine to match her various harnesses and leashes.
The dogs also often accompany Barr and her fiance to dog-friendly locations.
“We do family outings to the dog beach in Long Beach … or to events like Bark for Life … They get birthdays, half birthdays … as much as you would do with a human child,” she said, laughing.
Founder of Bow-Wows & Meows, a nonprofit that promotes pet adoption, Yvonne (Allbee) Hanson, began the organization to spread the message of what wonderful benefits pets add to a family’s life because of her personal experience.
She and her husband were both older when they met, and neither had children.
“He always had pets, I always had pets, and when we joined families, we joined our pets too,” she said. “The bonding experience of having a pet was just so overwhelmingly wonderful, and it kind of all fit for us.”
They now have two dogs and two cats, all of which were rescued.
“When choosing pets, we always rescue and we try to choose the ones that have something to say and can’t say it themselves, so we can say it for them,” she said, adding that though her dogs are considered “bully breeds,” her cats run the house no questions asked.
“Because we have ‘bully breeds,’ we have a responsibility to advocate for them and to let them be seen in the light that is their wonderful selves,” she added. “As pet parents, we have to make sure all of our animals are safe and taken care of. You want to protect them. You want so much to give them a fraction of what they give you.”