A Guide to Michigan Adoptees Seeking Court Orders for Original Birth Certificates

By advocating for your rights, you reclaim your story, your name, your power, and your dignity.

For the past several years, fellow Michigan adoptees who were born after World War II have contacted me seeking help. They want what they are entitled to as a birthright and under core human rights principles of international law: their original birth certificates (OBCs), held in secret, by the state of Michigan.

The number of queries I received from adoptees increased in the last year, since I won a nearly three-decade-old contest with the state to give me my original birth certificate and published my story about that victory on my website.

Because of these requests, I am publishing a short guide that may help some of the thousands of fellow adoptees born in Michigan deprived of their equal rights by Michigan’s discriminatory and harmful adoption laws. To navigate this system, adoptees will need to deal with state courts and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). That agency overseas the state’s public health bureaucracy and has ultimate authority for adoptees’ official vital records—including their original birth documents.

This guide provides practical advice and logistical assistance. You also will need to review the FAQs I have published on my website for my forthcoming book on adoption. Also consult tips published by Bastard Nation’s Shea Grimm (dated but still relevant) on accessing your adoption records. This is not Michigan specific, however.

Click on this image to see adoptee rights lawyer Greg Luce’s illustration of the Michigan “donut hole” that denies thousands of Michigan adoptees access to their birth record. Image courtesy of Greg Luce, https://adopteerightslaw.com/.

Michigan Adoptees Born Between 1945 and 1980

This guide focuses on Michigan adoptees born between May 28, 1945 and September 12, 1980. I was born during this time. According to the state’s website, “For those adoptions that occurred between May 28, 1945 and September 12, 1980, the release of the original birth certificate is contingent upon a court order.” As an adoptee seeking your OBC, that means you are almost certainly going to court, and it will not be easy. More on that shortly.

This 35-year span defined by law was not an accident. These were the boom years for adoption, when single women who became pregnant were pressured by society and many powerful medical, social work, and religious groups to give up millions of infants through the late 1970s. Thus the law intentionally harms the biggest pool of adopted citizens from the state by restricting their right to know who they are and their family ancestry and medical history.

Getting a Court Order: An Uphill Slog through a Hostile Environment

Those born before May 28, 1945 or after September 12, 1980 still face legal barriers. Read this summary of state law, published on the Adoptee Rights Law Center website. Greg Luce, an adoptee rights advocate who runs this website, elegantly describes Michigan’s convoluted system this way: “Michigan has such a confusing and complex system that only lawyers or those invested in such a complicated bureaucratic framework could fully comprehend it. To seek an OBC in Michigan you must 1) apply through an agency or court, which 2) forwards a clearance request form to the state’s “central adoption registry,” which 3) searches the registry and then 3) returns a clearance reply form to the court or agency that 4) is used to inform the adoptee that 5) a birth parent has denied any release of information (and the OBC is therefore unavailable) or that 6) a birth parent agrees to the release of information, upon which 7) the adoptee may obtain a copy of the clearance reply form and may then 7) supply the clearance reply form to the state registrar, which 8) issues a non-certified copy of the original birth certificate to the adoptee. Oh, if you were born between 1945 and 1980, this whole mechanism doesn’t even apply to you. Like other donut hole states, if you fall into that hole you need a court order to get your OBC.”

Michigan’s Communications to Adoptees Seeking an OBC:

You can read a succinct summary of the process published by the Adoptee Rights Coalition. The state also provides a short summary, which does not address how to navigate court order requests for adoptions that occurred between May 28, 1945 and September 12, 1980.

Rudy Owens holds a copy of his original birth certificate (some info whited out intentionally). Michigan denied my human right to my birth record for 27 years. They failed. I did not.

Key Points for Michigan Adoptees to Consider Before Beginning Court Advocacy for OBCs:

1. Current laws in Michigan, and the way its laws and vital records systems function today, are intended to prevent most Michigan adoptees from getting their original birth documents—forever. Remember that always. I will say that again: Remember that always. The political and legal systems governing adoption laws cause real harm to adoptees and deny them their basic human rights. You must be realistic how this plays out statewide and nationally. The laws vary by state. You cannot afford ignorance of the system or the players who control it. You must educate yourself about this reality. Know your friends and especially your opponents in your effort to achieve equal rights and your OBC.

2. No one will help you who works for the MDHSS, the state’s public health agency that controls your birth records. You can ask them for help, but you will not get it. The agency has an adversarial relationship with adoptees. In fact, you must be prepared to fight them, even once you get your court order—if you get one. They may even attempt to delay the release of your original birth certificate once presented with a judge’s ruling. This happened to me. See my FAQs also.

3. The Michigan Central Adoption Registry is a mostly unaccountable bureaucracy of one employee (Connie Stevens; stevensc2@michigan.gov) with no regulatory oversight. Do not contact it. See Luce’s description above regarding its mandate. Its website states it “is accessed by the court or agency; individual adopted persons do not contact the Registry.” This office does not answer phone calls, but may return one. Expect no help, even if you deserve it and need it.

4. The media may not be sympathetic to you, unless you have some emotional and tear-jerking reunion story. Overall, the media has a tepid interest in adoptee rights and in the past has viewed them in a discriminatory way—sometimes portraying them as uppity bastards who are not thankful they were taken in by loving families, etc. See the adoptee rights group Bastard Nation’s essay on this harmful stereotype. You can try to enlist the media, but do not assume the media will be a natural ally in the court of public opinion. That said, you should engage them, and you may find an ally in their ranks. Always try, and try again.

5. Remember, this takes time. You must give yourself anywhere from three months and much longer. You need to file your paperwork, advocate and push a court to set up a date, have your court date, and then submit, hopefully, your court order to Michigan Vital Records for your original birth certificate (OBC). You are running a marathon, not an 800-meter race. Stay focused on the end goal, always.

6. Rely on yourself. This is a personal journey. Most of us will do it alone. Most of us are not wildly rich and cannot afford to hire people to do unpleasant and tedious advocacy work. I encourage you not to seek help from any so-called confidential intermediaries or social workers. (Please avoid a Michigan confidential intermediary named Darryl Royal–he is not a real adoptee rights advocate.) There are some true legal advocates out there who work on cases. I suggest contacting the Adoptee Rights Law Center for possible tips if you really have a strong case needing litigation.

Starting Your Court Order Request:

Adoptees in the donut hole years need to find the court of jurisdiction for adoption records requests. For Wayne County/Detroit, where I was born, it is the Family-Juvenile Division of the Third Judicial Circuit Court of Michigan. Its address and contact information is:
Third Judicial Circuit Court, Family Division
Attention: Post Adoptions
1025 E. Forest Avenue
Detroit, MI 48207-1098
Tel: (313) 224-5261; direct line: (313) 833-0032

Circuit courts likely have jurisdiction for issuing court orders for an adoptee. Find your court of jurisdiction here. This may be the hardest detail to figure out. The Third Judicial Circuit Court covers anyone born in Detroit, and adoptees there number in the thousands because that was home to Crittenton General Hospital, one of the nation’s largest maternity hospitals that facilitated adoptions for more than 30 years.

Download or request the instructions from the court in your jurisdiction, or contact that court for additional information. The instructions from the Family-Juvenile Division of the Third Judicial Circuit Court of Michigan are found online. Make a copy for your records.

Here are the instructions for Wayne County adoptees seeking to set up a court date and to petition a judge. Before you send your request in, make a copy of everything. Send your request certified mail. Make a cover letter listing everything you are sending and be courteous and professional. Show the court and judge that you are a professional and have your case in order. Show them you know the law and your rights.

You will need to send the following:

  • A $20 filing fee (as of 2016)
  • A copy of your photo identification
  • A copy of your adoptive birth certificate.
  • A completed Release of Information Authorization Adult Adoptee (Form FIA 1920). Include in the comments area on this form that you are requesting your original birth certificate (it’s a short box that says “additional comments”—make your pitch about your rights to your record).
  • A completed Request by Adult Adoptee for Identifying Information (Form FIA 1925).
  • A Form PCA 327 Petition For Adoption Information and Order (note, this is not listed in required forms, and this was added as a last-minute requirement before my court date—so it won’t hurt to do it now).
  • If the birth certificate you are requesting is for a deceased, direct descendant, proof of the relationship and death are required (ie: death certificate, birth certificate, etc.).
  • Also, the above forms should be completed with the information regarding the adoptee.
  • Provide a written statement, no longer than a page, making your case why you deserve your birth record. This is your story, so only you can write it. Note, this is not required, but STRONGLY encouraged.

Please visit this page to review the FAQs for court order requests and hearings. I also published a copy of this article on the website for my forthcoming book on the American adoption experience, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are. Find that article here.

Advertisements

Does bias influence how publications choose to tell stories about adoptees and adoption history?

This historic photo of a Crittenton mission from the late 1950s or 1960s shows how expecting mothers who stayed at Crittenton homes and hospitals were given maternal health instructions. Almost all of those mothers gave up their infants, for adoption at the encouragement of doctors, social workers, and staff at Crittenton and other maternity homes in the decades after World War II. (Photo courtesy of the National Crittenton Foundation.)

This week I was informed by a Michigan historical publication that its editorial committee rejected my proposed article on the historical significance of my birthplace, Crittenton General Hospital. “While the committee appreciates the article you submitted, it unfortunately does not meet our magazine’s editorial needs and we will be unable to accept it for publication,” the editor wrote.

This means that an article I proposed to tell the story of thousands of single Michigan mothers who gave up their children for adoption in the decades after World War II in Detroit will not reach a wider audience in Michigan. For that, I am disappointed.

I respectfully asked for feedback how I did not meet their needs, and did not get a reply. I do not expect a response, and to date have not received one.

[Author’s update, 9/15/2017, 1:05 p.m.: Hours after publishing this article, I received a reply from the publication I had contacted that its editorial committee thought my article was a “personal opinion piece,” which they do not accept in their publications. That reply arrived only after I had provided the publication a courtesy email to let them know I had published this article.]

No publication is obligated to tell any writer why they are rejected. Rejection is the norm in the world of writing and publishing. It also inspires good writers.

However, this outcome, which I have experienced when reaching out to many different publications to engage them on the history and problems in the U.S. adoption system, likely has other issues beyond my storytelling abilities or even the merits of the stories I am trying to tell.

The outcome falls into a trend of editorial bias by people who likely do not recognize how their decisions about covering the story of the U.S. adoption system and its history are influenced by their own subconscious views. My forthcoming book on the U.S. adoption experience investigates how bias influences individuals’ and society’s views about illegitimately born people (bastards like me), including adoptees. I also have published an essay on that topic on my blog.

Is it Bad Writing/Research, Bias, or a ‘Suspect’ Writer/Researcher?

Source: Pannucci, Christopher J., and Edwin G. Wilkins. “Identifying and Avoiding Bias in Research.” Plastic and reconstructive surgery 126.2 (2010): 619–625. PMC. Web. 15 Sept. 2017.

The larger issue of research bias is well documented in human-subjects research. That field boasts a staggering list of biases that impact the research outcomes, before, during, and after clinical trials. It also is a well-documented issue in communications.

The open-source scientific publication PLoS noted in a 2009 editorial, “A large and growing literature details the many ways by which research and the subsequent published record can be inappropriately influenced, including publication bias, outcome reporting bias, financial and non-financial, competing interests, sponsors’ control of study data and publication, and restrictions on access to data and materials. But it can be difficult for an editor, reading a submitted manuscript, to disentangle these many influences and to understand whether the work ultimately represents valid science.”

When a writer or researcher is rejected, they have almost no chance of persuading a potential publisher to chance its views. If you push your case, you also are further discounted as too “attached” or “engaged.”

In the world of investigative journalism, you are even considered dangerous, and your own publications may turn against you if you fail to accept outcomes that can squash controversial stories. This is a common experience to anyone who has mattered in the world of journalism.

Author and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The celebrated investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in 1993 that telling stories that some people do not want to read but should be told is often a thankless, even dangerous task.

“Reporters write a story once, and then there’s no response and they stop,” says Hersh. “Somehow the object [is] to keep on pushing. The problem is, what do you do when you make yourself a pain in the ass and you become suspect? Because as everybody knows, for some mysterious reasons, if you have a point of view in a newspaper room you are suspect. Or if you’re a true believer you’re dangerous, you’re political. That’s really crazy. Because it seems to me the only good stories that come out of anything come from people who have a passion about right and wrong, and good and bad. It’s a terrible tragedy. It’s very tough.”

I always turn to Hersh’s quote that I jotted down when I first became a journalist, when I need to remember that telling important stories, including ones that challenge orthodoxy and prejudice, will never be an easy road to travel. That is why I wrote my book about the American adoption experience, knowing it would not be an easy story to tell or to sell.

But anything that matters, really and truly matters, requires overcoming such obstacles. That is how you find personal meaning and how you make positive and meaningful change that may take years to achieve.

(Author’s note: This essay also can also be found on my You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are website, where I provide information, essays, and resources on adoptee rights, adoption, evolutionary biology, adoption law, and other issues covered in my forthcoming memoir on the American adoption experience. Please visit that site to learn more about adoptee rights and research.)

My $85 used bike — best investment I have made in years

Here she is, my  $85, Chinese-manufactured, used mountain bike. OK, I have replaced the rear wheel, chain, and rear derailleur, but that happens with all bikes. I bought it before I began my MPH program in 2010, so I would not have to worry about my wheels being stolen (who wants an $85 bike?) while I was in class or in my apartment, where I had to lock it outside. Since its purchase, I guess we have cycled more than 4,200 miles (mainly to and from the University of Washington campus, and around Seattle). She is my testimony to the marriage of health, policy, convenience, and common sense (all very American ideas in my book). In public health, I think it is critical practitioners practice what they preach, and this is testimony to that.

More than 4,000 miles for less than the price of an iPhone

We are passed all the time on the Burke Gilman bike trail, but that is OK. I am still getting the benefits of a ride, 10 miles every weekday, when class is in session. There are simply few things in life that produce so many positive effects for such little money and with practically no environmental impacts. Here is why biking makes great sense, particularly in cities in the USA, and a few reasons why we have to do better, particularly with infrastructure and investments to make it safer.

Safety: We know that there are fewer accidents to pedestrians and bicyclists when there are safe areas for them to travel. Studies have shown that changes to our cities that make it safer to bike and walk help improve our health.

But in Seattle and elsewhere in the U.S., walking and cycling are much more dangerous, on a per-trip and per-mile basis. Compared to other countries such as Germany and Netherlands, where biking and walking are encouraged by changes in transportation designs, travel by biking and walking were six and eight times greater than the U.S., mainly because of real dangers. What’s more, in the U.S. a pedestrian is 23 times more likely to be killed than car occupants, and bikers 12 times more likely. On a per-kilometer/per-trip basis, U.S. walkers were three times more likely to get killed than German walkers, and six times more likely than Dutch pedestrians. Biking is healthy, but without infrastructure and numbers, we are greatly exposed. One reason German and Dutch cities are safer for walkers and bikers is because they provide safe and attractive corridors and crossings for them. We fail to do that in this country, even in “bike friendly” United States. We must do better, at the local and national policy levels.

Health: Biking literally makes you skinnier and it is great for your health. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in 30 or more minutes of physical activity a day – and barely half of all Americans engage in more than 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. Currently, more than a two-thirds of all Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are obese or overweight. Medical expenses associated with health issues related to obesity , according to the CDC, accounted for nearly 10 percent of total U.S. medical expenditures, totaling over $80 billion dollars annually. By contrast, in European countries, those with the highest rates of walking and cycling have much lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Type 2 diabetes alone is estimated to cost the U.S. $180 billion annually. In short, making it easier to bike makes health sense and fiscal sense. Including here in Seattle.

Car Trips Can Be Reduced: In the United States, more than 40 percent of all car trips were less than 2 miles, and 28 percent were less than 1 mile – and we know that biking can easily cover such distances. Americans need to get on their bikes for short trips, even in winter cities. It’s doable. Winter cities in Europe are filled with bikers. Addressing the safety barrier is a hurdle we have to overcome with designated bike corridors, to help encourage exercise levels needed to help reduce prevalence of some chronic diseases.

Two Great Reasons: New bicycle commuters can expect to lose 13 pounds their first year of bicycle commuting. [Bicycling Magazine]. If that wasn’t enough, we know that biking is cheaper than driving, a fact that make sense as we are seeing a spike in oil prices because of instability in the Mideast and North Africa.

Good Ideas: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed transportation policy proposals that could improve health. The CDC’s recommendations call for “healthy community design elements”—transportation networks, street designs, land use policies—that can mitigate adverse impacts from air and noise pollution and reduce injuries.  The proposals also call for policies that protect pedestrians and bicyclists, which in turn can have a profound positive impact on health. These include designing streets to reduce vehicle speeds and pedestrian and bike injuries and correcting hazards in infrastructure to make it safer for walkers and bicyclists.

I do not know if I will reach 5,000 miles with my cheapo bike, but think of the low-cost impact this kind of tool could have if just 1 percent of all Americans who did not own a bike found one on Craigslist, purchased it, and started to transform themselves and their neighborhoods. It is practically revolutionary as an idea, and good for the economy too.

Suggested Sources:

Pucher J, Dijkstra L. Promoting safe walking and cycling to improve public health: lessons from the Netherlands and Germany. American Journal of Public Health. 2003; 93:1509 –1516.

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-Being, and Sustainability. Eds.  Dannenberg, A., Frumkin, H., Jackson, R. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2011.

Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. CDC recommendations for improving health through transportation policy. 2010; http://www.cdc.gov/transportation/.

Being SMART about feel-good social media sensations

Like many people, I have very mixed feelings about the media phenomenon that is the super viral video known as Kony 2012. It has a sexy opening line: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea”–something that is a two-edged sword.  This can be terribly awful if applied by those promoting “evil agendas” (explained below). The video is produced by a group called Invisible Children, itself a major recipient of corporate giving (JP Chase Morgan Bank is a huge supporter of this group, according to the company’s web site). This itself gives one pause.

The moment I saw it, I was screaming out loud: “manipulative,” “scam,” “cliche,” “heroic white saviors,” “powerless Africans with only one name,” “exploitative.” I actually have followed this story for more than a decade, and I have been to northern Uganda in 1997, where the Lord’s Resistance Army wrought havoc on innocent Ugandans. This is a long, complex story involving several African nations, ethnic groups, geopolitics, and more. This video, while bringing a horrible human rights offender to the attention of the public, disregarded many historic realities that I found deeply troubling as a former journalist. For instance, the main villain, Joseph Kony, is no longer in Uganda committing crimes; he reportedly was last seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

So what are we to do when we see how emotionally manipulative media products can gain one instant notoriety and fame, itself a goal of many scraping to make it in media production, photography, and storytelling.  (Recall “performance artist,” but definitely not a journalist, Mike Daisy and the factually inaccurate story he pushed about Apple’s suppliers in China that compromised his career and brought disgrace to the radio show This American Life.)

I can never disassociate the message from the person. Remember Leni Riefenstahl and her hypnotically seductive Triumph of the Will, a  scary masterpiece of fascist propaganda released in 1935 (when concentration camps were not quite operationalized) that helped the cause of one of the greatest murdering madmen of human history, Adolf Hitler? Riefenstahl latter downplayed her Nazi sympathies and attempted to justify her work as merely the output of an artist doing a job, without moral consideration for the outcome. And she was a brilliant photographer and filmmaker, who even after being associated with a genocidal regime, revitalized her career with images of Sudan (The Last of the Nuba) that many would think of today as “progressive” in its orientation. (See the stunning photo below.)

Leni Riefenstahl’s photos of the Nuba, seen here, are brilliant images in their own right, but should they be viewed as distinct from her ties to a genocidal regime from her more youthful days?

I just stumbled on a promotional page for a group called International League of Conservation Photographers. I immediately smelled the conflict between huge egos involved in their media/photographic work and their worthwhile “cause.” The video creates an image of heroic warriors, backed by their own orchestral score. Or, are they just talented photographers trying to make a living too as photographers. What do you all think?

I am always going to suspect self-promotion if I do not see a clearly defined goal that accompanies the promotion. This organization states what many would believe to be a worthy goal: “The ILCP seeks to empower conservation photographers by creating an organizational structure that allows them to focus on the creative aspects of their work while at the same time finding venues that allow their images to make a significant contribution to the understanding and caring of the environment.” But is this truly a clear roadmap?

In public health, they teach us that the best interventions have SMART objectives because they provide the clearest guidelines for developing measurable, achievable actions. SMART stands for:
-Specific
-Measurable
-Attainable
-Relevant
-Time Bound

Whether SMART objectives actually lead to change, or themselves become watered down by their clever wording, is another topic. But in general, I believe this is a relevant way for looking at groups who promote social change. Is what they are offering SMART, or is something more akin to Triumph of the Will, dressed in clever social media marketing. That really is the job of the viewer, but also those who can also use social media to call attention to Triumph of the Will’s and Kony 2012’s viral step-children.

Photographing leprosy in the Philippines

In 2003, I visited two leprosy clinics in the Philippines, run by the Philippine Leprosy Mission. One is located near the capital, Manilla, the other operates outside of the second largest city, Cebu City.

Leprosy is not considered a major global health priority, relative to much more serious infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, or mosquito-borne malaria. Still the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 200,000 persons, mostly in Africa and Asia, are infected. It’s a bacterial disease, and has been reported well before the time of Christ. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and also the eyes. Leprosy is curable and treatment provided in the early stages averts lifelong disability. If it is not caught, it can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes. That is the leprosy in the popular imagination. It is the disease that causes deep fear because it is misunderstood.

My photographs were shared with the American Leprosy Mission, which supports these two missions. These were the final product of my trip. The project grew out of a relationship I developed with a Seattle-area physician, working to raise funds to help permanently eliminate the disease, in conjunction with the American Leprosy Mission and supporters in the Philippines.

The two photographs shown here were taken at the Eversly Childs Sanitarium, near Cebu City, on the island of Cebu. The facility is home to patients suffering from leprosy, and their children, like the young girls laughing below. Patients served by the Philippines Leprosy Mission are engaged in a variety of activities, including trades that help them earn a living, including this man. This was not my greatest work, and wish I had spent more time getting to meet the residents. This was parachute documentary work, and it shows. However, I think the photos presented residents as themselves, living their lives to their fullest. While outside support is critical to this mission, the place is ably run by Filipino professionals. I remember these smiling young ladies the most. Wonderful people.

Why we love pets, and why it is healthy for us

One of the benefits of paying tuition to a research university (in my case the University of Washington) is that you get access to otherwise off-limits articles. I am not allowed to share a full copy of this 1997 article by John Archer on why humans love pets, but I’ll include the abstract and some key findings:

-Compared to nonowners, pet owners are found to show significantly reduced physiological risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and systolic blood pressure (Anderson 1992; Anderson et al. 1992). These differences could not be attributable to confounding variables such as socioeconomic status, body weight, or smoking habits (Anderson 1992).

-Among patients who had been treated for myocardial infarction or angina pectoris, pet ownership was significantly associated with lower mortality 1 year later (Friedman et al. 1980); this association remained even when dog owners were removed, to control for their additional exercise. Pet owners also show less intense reactions to stress (Bergler 1992), fewer psychosomatic symptoms (Bergler 1992), and fewer visits to medical practitioners than nonowners (Siegel 1992), a finding that was attributed to the stress-buffering effect of pet ownership.

-Other studies show the direct effects of interacting with a pet (e.g., stroking it) on physiological measures indicative of relaxation, such as heart rate and blood pressure (Lysons 1992).

-A sample of children in an experimental situation where they were asked to read aloud showed comparable lowered blood pressure and heart rates when a friendly dog was present (Friedmann et al. 1983).

-A 10-month prospective study (Serpell 1991) examined changes in health and behavior following acquisition of a dog or cat and in a control group without pets. Pet owners showed a highly significant reduction in minor health problems and improved scores on a standardized questionnaire, the General Health Questionnaire (Goldberg and Williams 1978). These effects were more prolonged among dog than cat owners.

CITATION:
Why Do People Love Their Pets?
John Archer, Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, United Kingdom
Evolution and Human Behavior 18:237-259 (1997)

Abstract: The evidence that people form strong attachments with their pets is briefly reviewed before identifying the characteristics of such relationships, which include pets being a source of security as well as the objects of caregiving. In evolutionary terms, pet ownership poses a problem, since attachment and devoting resources to another species are, in theory, fitness-reducing. Three attempts to account for pet keeping are discussed, as are the problems with these views. Pet keeping is placed into the context of other forms of interspecific associations. From this, an alternative Darwinian explanation is proposed: pets are viewed as manipulating human responses that had evolved to facilitate human relationships, primarily (but not exclusively) those between parent and child. The precise mechanisms that enable pets to elicit caregiving from humans are elaborated. They involve features that provide the initial attraction, such as neotenous characteristics, and those that enable the human owner to derive continuing satisfaction from interacting with the pet, such as the attribution of mental processes to human-like organisms. These mechanisms can, in some circumstances, cause pet owners to derive more satisfaction from their pet relationship than those with humans, because they supply a type of unconditional relationship that is usually absent from those with other human beings.

For those with access to such databases, you may wish to find the full article, or there is a chance Google Scholar may have it somewhere in the “gray literature” area online.

And this is one of many pieces of peer reviewed research that highlights the many health benefits of pets and the incredibly strong emotion attachments humans have with them. (Go to the Delta Society web site for other research published online).

Ending journeys and celebration rituals

On March 27, 2012, I submitted my capstone research project for my master of public health program at the University of Washington School of Public Health (UW SPH). (My program is called Community Oriented Public Health Practice.) My research focusses on the effectiveness of Seattle emergency preparedness communications, what residents know about emergency preparedness, who they trust, and how well these outreach efforts are reaching vulnerable residents. I really enjoyed this project and enjoyed the many professional relationships I developed during the course of my research. I also greatly enjoyed sharing my research findings with the emergency preparedness community of greater King County on Feb. 16, 2012.

From what I was told, my research project was the earliest any project had been submitted ever (a full quarter early) to COPHP. And it was a project well received by the City of Seattle, with whom I worked and who have already published my reports to them on their web site (look for  SNAP Research – “Owens Report 1” and “Owens Report 2” at www.seattle.gov/emergency/publications/#s). I also have published copies of nearly all of my original research and papers submitted to the UW SPH. You can review and download my finished work.

However, being early means you can’t celebrate. It is “out of place,” as some rituals are tied closely to shared experiences, not individual ones. At my undergraduate school, Reed College, the culmination of the undergraduate thesis (required for all students) was a thesis thermometer in the hallway of the main administrative building that marked every thesis turned in. The ritual culminated in a massive parade and a fun weekend called Renn Fayre. I always thought the thesis was a somewhat onerous burden with little practical real-world applications (for me at least), but at least the school “got it” when it came to marking the end of a long and arduous journey in academia. I have my own ritual in mind for when I get my next diploma. It will be very very fun. I’ll do it somewhere in the woods, and I look forward to that event.