Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to thank Vivian Lawry for doing a guest post about what pets say about their owners.
On April 13, 2018, I posted Pets: A Treasure Trove for Writers focusing on how people treat their pets and how pets might fit into plot points and scenes. Now, I’m turning to the ways pets reflect their owners, and the things an informed character might deduce from simply knowing another character’s pet choice(s). These are group data, of course, so as a writer you need to decide whether your character reflects the norm or is an outlier.
Cat owners are the most dependable and emotionally sensitive.
Reptile owners are the most independent.
2) Comparing dog people and cat people:
Dog people are 15% more extroverted, 13% more agreeable, and 11% more conscientious.
Cat people are 12% more neurotic and 11% more emotionally open.
Dog owners are healthier: handled stress better, were more relaxed, had higher self-esteem, and were less likely to be diagnosed with depression.
3) Richard Wiseman concluded that people often see their pets’ personality as a reflection of their own. Maybe a character could ask, “So, what’s your X like?”
4) Younger people who are disagreeable tend to prefer aggressive dogs.
5) Dog owners tend to seek different qualities in their dogs depending on their political leanings:
Liberals want dogs that are gentle and relate to their owners as equals.
Conservatives want dogs that are loyal and obedient.
6) Likelihood of owners cleaning up after their dogs:
35.3% of males; 58.2% of females.
18.2% of those who are lower income; 68.7% of those with higher income.
72.6% of those who kept their dogs on a leash.
The website medium.com has published at least two articles on this topic: “What Your Pet Says Abut Your Personality and Career” (Mitch Fodstad, 3/6/2017) and “What Your Pet Says About You” (Dustin Bilyk, 1/10/18). The Bilyk article was written for humor and is basically an opinion piece, but you might want to read it for inspiration about a character’s opinions. In addition to personality and career, life stage is addressed. All of the following points come from these two articles. Not surprisingly, there is some overlap with the points above. So, by pet, here are the generalities:
Snake people: Owners are unconventional and novelty-seeking, may be bad-ass or wannabe bad-ass, and may have a kinky side. FYI, male snakes are so focused on reproducing that they don’t even eat during mating season and many of them die. Snake owners tend to lead unusual lives and make impulsive decisions. They’re eager for the next move, even when unsure what that move might be.
Common careers: engineer, social worker, marketing/public relations professional, editor/writer, or police officer.
Turtle people: They are hard-working and reliable. Turtle owners harness exceptional commitment, which drives quality performance and bodes well for upward mobility to a higher social class.
Common careers: engineer, social worker, marketing/public relations professional, editor/writer, or police officer.
(VL: Note the similarities with other reptile people as described above.)
Fish people: They are optimistic and not materialistic, unconcerned with possessions. They prefer low-maintenance pets. Fish owners are hopeful and confident about the future.
Common career choices: human resources, financial professional, hotel and leisure professional, farming/fishing/forestry professional, or transportation professional.
Bird people: These pet owners tend to be outgoing and friendly, expressive, and socially confident. They communicate effectively and may include some of the most powerful visionaries.
Common careers: advertising professional, sales person, construction worker, or administrative professional.
Cat people: Cat owners tend to be adventurous, creative, and anxious. They enjoy new experiences, often have vivid imaginations, and are likely to be less sociable than dog owners.
Common careers: physician, real estate agent, science/medical technicians, machine operator, or personal caretaker.
Dog people: These people tend to be extroverted, confident, and risk-averse.
Common careers: professor, nurse, information technology professional, military professional, or entertainer.
Frankly, I find the links between pet, personality, and careers more suggestive than factual. Writers should still consider the narrative possibilities of such links.
Scientific American MIND published on-line an overview of the research into what pets say about their owners (Karen Schrock Simring, 9/1/15). There isn’t much data published in peer-reviewed academic studies, but lots of information is available from huge market surveys within the pet industry and survey responses from pet owners. Because I don’t want to footnote specific statements, I am not combining info from this article with related statements above.
If a character has a dog, he or she is more likely to be in senior management and consider their pet part of the family; live with family members, not have a college degree (although other research suggests dog owners are likely to be a professor, nurse, information professional, military professional, or entertainer); be extroverted, agreeable, and conscientious; have gotten the dog from a shelter or rescue group; live in Arkansas, New Mexico, Kentucky, Missouri, or West Virginia.
If the character’s pet is a cat, they are more likely to be divorced, widowed, or separated; live in an apartment; be neurotic and open to new experiences; be college educated; be a physician, real estate agent, science or medical lab technician, machine operator, or personal caregiver; be less socially dominant; live in Vermont, Maine, Oregon, South Dakota, or Washington state.
If the character owns a bird, they are more likely to be unemployed, describe themselves as caring and polite, be outgoing and expressive (and socially dominant if female), and live in California, Oregon, Washington state, or Nevada.
Horse owners tend to be more assertive and introspective and less warm and nurturing; be aggressive and socially dominant if he is male but non-aggressive and easygoing if she is female; hold an advanced degree; be married and a homeowner; live in a rural area; reside in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, or Louisiana. They are most likely to describe themselves as dependable and self-disciplined.
Cold-blooded exotic pet owners if female, are more open to new experiences than male owners or female owners of traditional pets; if male, they are much less agreeable than female owners or male owners of traditional pets.
If the pet is a snake, the character may describe themselves as neat and tidy, relaxed and unpredictable; be unconventional and novelty seeking; and consider their pet “part of the family.”
If the character’s pet is a turtle, that character is more likely to be hardworking, reliable, and upwardly mobile, and describe themselves as rational and goal-oriented.
Fish owners are most likely to describe themselves as calm and emotionally stable.
Rabbit owners describe themselves as sympathetic, warm, and open to new experiences.
Hamster owners were the most likely to have an advanced degree.
Guinea pig owners were least likely to describe themselves as extroverted.
Owners of unusual pets were more likely to have a menagerie. For instance, more than half of ferret owners said they had six or more pets. Dog owners, on the other hand, were the most likely to have only one pet.
More than half of cat owners are fond of both cats and dogs. More than half of dog owners say they only like canines.
Beyond the most common pets, people make a pet of almost any animal: chickens, exotic insects, possums, pigs, etc.
Writers note: For people who have pets, those pets are often integral to how owners see themselves. For example, some men who want to look tough may get a tough-looking dog. Some people have rabbits or poodles because that’s the family tradition. Some people who feel misunderstood may seek “misunderstood” pets such as spiders. If you give your character a pet, choose it for a reason!
And in spite of it all, keep in mind that although 68% of U.S. households have pets, that leaves 32% pet-less.
Vivian Lawry is Appalachian by birth, a psychologist by training, and a writer by passion. Her short works have appeared in more than fifty literary journals and anthologies, from Adanna to Xavier Review. In addition she has published four books: Dark Harbor and Tiger Heart, Chesapeake Bay Mysteries; Different Drummer, a collection of off-beat fiction; and an historical novel, Nettie’s Books, A Story of Strength and Change. For a complete list of her publications and to sample her work, visit vivianlawry.com. Vivian Lawry is on FaceBook and Twitter.
Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Phil Hilliker to the blog.
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I have been a freelance illustrator and graphic designer for the past 17 years, with the majority of my work focused on role-playing games and children’s books. After spending many years making pictures for other people’s words, I decided it was time to start focusing on my own. Right now I have a middle grade (aimed at eight to twelve-year olds) sci-fi novel on submission with my awesome agent, Erica Bauman at Aevitas Creative Management. I’m also revising a middle grade fantasy novel and several picture book projects. It’s pretty much all monsters or robots with me.
I have a short story and provided all the story header illustrations in River City Secrets: Stories from Richmond, edited by Lana Krumwiede and published by Chops Suey Books Books.
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
My family has three pets—a betta fish named Sonic Blue, and two guinea pigs, David Bowie and Ringo Starr. We can’t take credit for those amazing names, though. They were already named when we adopted them. We wish we were cool enough to come up with those names.
All three are fairly new additions to the family! Sonic Blue has been with us about three months. We adopted David Bowie and Ringo Star about two months ago. So they haven’t made their way into my writing yet, but I’m sure they will at some point. They have such fun little personalities. David Bowie is always in the middle of the action while Ringo Starr hangs out in the background and avoids attention.
What are you reading now?
I read a lot of middle grade, because that’s what I write, and it’s important to know what’s happening in the particular category in which we write. I recently finished The Mothman’s Curse by Christina Hayes, which captured a wonderful family dynamic. It was easy to root for the characters. Currently, I’m also listening to Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey—an adult fantasy novel that’s basically Jane Austin with magic. It captures the Edwardian vibe really well, and I’m enjoying the way she’s describing how the characters use magic.
Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
I didn’t really. We had a cat for a short period of time that we believe was cat-napped. I still wonder what happened to her sometimes. But that was it. I have a deep love of cats, but I’ve developed a sever allergy to them as I’ve grown older, keeping my family from getting one now.
How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
I don’t have any animals of note in the manuscript I currently have on submission. However, in the novel that’s currently being revised, there are several main characters who are animals. It’s a portal fantasy, where two boys travel to fairy, and in keeping with the tropes of the portal fantasy, they have a few animal sidekicks who talk and help them navigate the world.
I’m also working on a picture book that has a loveable chicken as the main character.
When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, even as a kid. But, visual art was naturally easier for me, so I went to art school and chased my natural talent with the idea that I would get around to writing when I had the time. That always seems to be the way, doesn’t it? But when I was well into my thirties without finding the time, I realized I’d better make it, or it would never happen.
So I wrote without telling anyone for a few years, figuring that pretty much everyone wanted to write a book and it wasn’t worth mentioning. Getting involved with James River Writers gave me the confidence to actually admit it aloud to folks.
What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
I have physical TBR piles all over the house, not to mention the digital one on my Kindle and the holds I’m still waiting to come through at the library! I’m excited to read Gwen Cole’s sci-fi western Ride On and the second book in N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth Trilogy. The first one, The Fifth Season, stunned and impressed me in ways no other book has in years.
What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?
A child. I know that doesn’t really count, and I’ll probably get in trouble for saying that, but taking care of a kid—really from infancy through toddlerhood—is a lot like having a pet. You’re constantly cleaning up after it, chasing it down, and trying to keep it safe. But those moments of connection and appreciation, that feeling that all is right with the world because this creature you’ve been caring for is showing their full appreciation, makes it all worth it.
What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
1) The literary world is one of contradictions without a lot of concrete answers. For every piece of advice out there, there’s either counter advice or someone being successful doing the opposite. It can be hard to know which advice to go with, so I’ll give you this piece of advice (knowing that someone out there is doing the opposite)—just do whatever you can to be easy to work with and don’t make other people’s lives harder. I think that’s the biggest secret to success. If an agent asks for certain materials in submissions, follow them, because you don’t want to be known as the writer who can’t follow directions. But if someone tries to give you the formula for producing a successful book, they’re probably full of it.
2) How long things would take, and to have patience. I started the novel that’s currently on submission eight years ago, never having written a novel, and totally not knowing how to write one. I completely rewrote it several times. I put it through a critique group and beta readers. I signed with my agent about a year ago and revised it four more times with her! My novel has had a long road. Now, just as I wrote in number 1 above, this industry is full of contradictions. Your book might happen very quickly. But, if you’re publishing traditionally, don’t enter into any project without some flexibility to how you think it should go.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Find a critique group! It’s not always easy to find a functioning critique group. They are a relationship that has to be built on trust and respect, which can be difficult to find. So even if you find your first critique group doesn’t work out, find another one. That’s what I did. My first critique group fell apart through a combination of factors, and I was sad when it happened. But, I’m in a solid group now that’s been chugging along for four years, and I would do anything for my critique partners. They’re amazing. Critique groups don’t always work. But when they do, they can improve your writing at an astounding rate while being a positive accountability factor to keep you going.
Also, join a professional group like James River Writers. Having a sense of community is key, and being in a community makes it easier to find a critique group!