Pets provide a real alternative to children, according to this article by Diane Crabtree in Halifax Today. She writes that many people turn to animals for love, either because they're not ready to have children or because they don't plan to have kids at all.
Crabtree reported on a survey of people in the UK that found 600,000 women own pets specifically as a child substitute. (That number seems awfully high to me, but I'm sure it's a big trend.)
Petting, cuddling or interacting with a furry pet releases the same happy neurochemicals that canoodling with another person does. For a report on a study that measured the release of oxytocin in humans and dogs as they interacted, see "My Dog Really Loves Me."
According to the article,
But prefering pets doesn't mean your life need be a child-free zone forever. Doorbar says the myth that "you either like pets or you like children" is usually misguided.
"It's kind of like love is rationed and if you give love to an animal then you haven't got any left for people - and that's just a load of old rubbish really," [psychologist Patricia Doorbar] says. "You find that people who love animals tend to love children, tend to care about other people. It kind of spreads - it's a habit."
So is being a good pet owner a good indication of future parenting skills? "Yes, it probably is. They're still very much the same," Doorbar agrees.