For Empty-Nesters, It's Kids Out, Furry Friends In

ByABC News via logo
March 17, 2007, 4:16 PM

March 18, 2007 — -- When Chuck and Robby Robinsons' only child left home, he didn't just go across town. He went across the globe. That's when the Robinsons decided to replace their son, Jon.

"We got Annie about the same time that Jon moved to London," Robby said.

With their son on the other side of the world, the Robinsons said they needed something to fill the hole he left behind. That something is Annie.

"She's the child; she's the only child now," Chuck said.

Though Annie is treated like a princess -- she has her own room, receives gifts when the Robinsons come home from vacations and gets leftovers from restaurants -- she's not a child at all. She's a dog, and for many couples like the Robinsons, pets like her provide a much-needed source of companionship.

When Annie was diagnosed with an elbow disease that made it difficult for her to walk up the stairs in the Robinsons' two-story home, they moved into a one-story house.

"If we had a child who had to negotiate all those steps all the time, of course we would move," Robby said. "And we would absolutely move for Annie."

Think the Robinsons are extreme? Think again. Of the nearly 45 million dog owners in America, 16 million say they're as attached to their dog as they are to their best friend. Another 8.3 million report being as attached to their dog as they are to their own children.

The Robinsons are among a growing group of baby boomers who are filling their empty nests with pets.

"Knowing that there's someone who needs you and that you can take care of and make happy really fills a lot of the void of having no children in the house," Robby said.

Psychologists agree. Pets can give empty-nesters a purpose in life that they miss after their children are grown up and out of the house.

"You raise your children, you do a good job," said Dr. Patricia Farrell. "You prepare and prepare and then all of a sudden you're hit with the reality -- they're gone. It's empty.

"[Having a pet is] a way of having something that loves you no matter what," Farrell added. "But it also fills a need. And the need it fills is something to love and something to take care of, and something to give more purpose to life."