Is This You? -- University Of Oregon Study Reveals Psyches Of Owners

Does your dog sleep on your bed? Do you feed your cat gourmet food? Do you accentuate your aquarium with all sorts of fancy accessories and then get special pleasure watching your colorful exotic fishes cruise amidst a plastic shipwreck, tunnel or statue?

Do you love your pet? You bet you do. And that's exactly what Lynn Kahle, head of the marketing department at the University of Oregon College of Business Administration and a team of graduate students found in a recent profile of 667 pet owners.

The report reflects what has been established in many studies internationally - that our pets are good for our health. They help combat loneliness, depression and isolation. Consequently, they can increase owners' self-esteem, unselfishness and interpersonal trust.

Approximately 43 percent of U.S. homes have pets, according to the study, which places total pet ownership between 170 and 210 million.

If you doubt pets are big business, check this out. Dog and cat owners spend more than $7 billion annuallly on pet food, and another $5 billion on veterinary care and $2 billion on supplies.

Food manufacturers recognize this love affair we have with our pets and are increasingly trying to capture bigger shares of the burgeoning market.

For instance, between 1986 and '90, nearly 500 food products were introduced. Pet-related products are being cranked out in ever-increasing numbers, too. In 1990, 165 new ones were released, nearly double the number introduced in 1986.

The University of Oregon report cited numerous earlier studies documenting the positive psychological roles our pets serve, ranging from increased empathy and social skills in young children to love and companionship for the elderly.

Using equations from a 1988 research project, provides evidence, Kahle believes, that consumer values directly influence attitudes, which then directly influence consumer behaviors, including those associated with pet ownership.

Several other studies, the University of Oregon abstract says, have linked pet ownership with lifestyle. Then, it adds, based on research "it seems possible that pet owners may have different values and lifestyles than nonpet owners. In addition, it is possible that there are differences between different types of pet owners."

Here's a breakdown of the 663 adult respondents in the research - 417 are pet owners, 240 nonowners and six failed to identify themselves.

Pet ownership was as follows: 296 dog owners, 226 cat owners, 37 bird owners, 63 fish owners, 15 mouse owners, 19 rabbit owners and seven were reptile owners. Note the total is higher than 417, since some were multiple-pet households.

The questionaire dealt with values, lifestyles, lifestyle activities. Significant differences were observed in lifestyle statements for various categories, the abstract emphasizes.

Here are several generalities from each group: Compared to nondog owners, dog owners are less Machiavellian, believing honesty is the best policy, more religious and more duty bound.

Compared to noncat owners, cat owners are less religious, question their beliefs less, are less apt to delay gratification and have a lower sense of group identification, tending to be loners, just like their pets. They are more satisfied with their jobs and have a tendency to be more societally conscious.

Pet fish owners appear to be the most engaging. They have more differences in lifestyle and value beliefs of any category. They are less pessimistic, cynical and hopeless. They are less materialistic, less extreme in admiration for the rich, less authoritarian and less duty bound. Plus, they are more introverted and have lower social, ethnic and age-group identification.

So what does all this mean?

While it would suggest a profile for a particular type of pet ownership, it is possible that being an owner of a particular species might either develop or enhance certain characteristics. For example, taking care of and watching pet fish might make owners feel less pessimistic, cynical and hopeless, rather than less pessimistic people buy fish.

Kahle's report concludes that "value differences in pet ownership categories might offer possible strategies for marketers . . . A more thorough understanding of the motivations, values and lifestyles of pet owners can help marketers design more effective advertising approaches, both for pet products and in advertisements for nonpet products.

"Finally, a greater understanding can enhance the probability of success for new pet products, especially given the continued trend towards differentiation in pet foods and pet products."

Next time you see a pet-food or product commercial, remember it may be targeted particularly for your psyche. Ask yourself: Am I buying this for me or my pet?

For families with small children, parents and grandparents continually hear, "I want, I want," in the store. But for those whose pets are essentially surrogate children, the next purchase - albeit it emotional - is their call alone.

According to a Nielsen Household Services survey in the March 15 issue of Advertising Age magazine, pet owners' shopping habits are changing. Supermarkets' share of pet-food volume declined 2.5 percent last year to 70 percent of sales.

Conversely, mass-merchandise chains such as Wal-Mart and K Mart showed an 11 percent pet-food sales volume increase to 9.6 percent share of the total market. Other outlets such as veterinary hospitals, pet shops and warehouse clubs represent 7.4 percent of pet-food sales (a jump of 25.9 percent in 1992). Inspections working

The American Greyhound Council of Miami has seen encouraging results since hiring a fulltime inspector to oversee its farm inspection program last year.

The inspector conducted more than 340 checkups since last September. These are in addition to 99 by 75 part-timers throughout the year.

Eleven individuals were charged with mistreatment of greyhounds, six of whom were expelled from the association. This year the council will spend more than $100,000 on the farm-inspection program.

The nonprofit corporation also announced it will continue funding the Greyhound Adoption Fund, a joint venture with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, that provides emergency funding and grants for limited capital improvements to greyhound adoption agencies. Both organizations are working together to explore ways to increase the number of adoptions of these former racing dogs.

The council also funds a nationwide 800 number (1-800-366-1472), answered by the Greyhound Pets of America, aimed at putting the public in touch with greyhound rescue groups in its area.

-- Mail information regarding dog/cat events to Classified Division, attn. Marilyn Fairbanks, Dog/Cat Events, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA. 98111. All releases must be in writing and received by Monday prior to Sunday publication. Be sure to include a public phone-contact number. Also don't forget to phone in for my pet tip of the week on The Seattle Times Infoline, 464-2000, then press PETS (7387).