We love our pets and they, so far as they are capable, love us back. In particular dogs reciprocate when we shower our affection on them. They are so grateful to us, and more than repay us for adopting them and looking after them, providing them with food, housing and the aforementioned affection.
Cats on the other hand, do not appear to be so grateful for us letting them into our lives, and some cats seem to have an air of disdain for anything human related. I’m told by cat lovers that they are as affectionate as dogs, but it all seems to be very much on their terms.
Maybe that’s the way it should be. But maybe it is sheer hubris to assume that we are the top mammals, and that we should be treated as such. Cats are perhaps showing us that there are other ways to be superior.
There are other pets of course, such as birds and budgerigars, fish, rabbits and small rodents such as guinea pigs and hamsters, not to mention mice and rats. Some people have even more exotic pets, such as lizards and snakes, and even spiders.
While one can’t have as close relationship with these creatures as with dogs or cats, owners claim that these animals do show affection for their owners often in subtle ways. I’m sceptical that fish, snakes and spiders do so, but I’m willing to concede that the rodents probably do show affection to some small extents.
It’s probably that people began keeping pets as a convenient food supply. In some places rodents such as guinea pigs are bred for food, and the rabbits which have become pests in some parts of the world were definitely introduced as a food source. Apparently rabbits were introduced into the UK by the Romans as a food source, and it’s hard to realise that rabbits haven’t always been in the UK these days.
Larger animals, such as pigs, sheep and goats and other animals that are kept for their meat sometimes end up as pets. Maybe the child of a farmer may have hand-reared the animal when something happened to the animal’s mother and become attached to it. This is often seen as a waste by the farmer, but he may indulge the child and allow the animal to live.
In most cases of such larger pet animals, the animal does not live with the owners, but merely gets special treatment from the owners. It is a sort of half and half pet animal. In rare cases the pig or other animal may actually live with the humans, but this is considered eccentric. Often media will use such cases for “human interest” stories. I often wonder if the pig on the couch is really happy with the situation or whether it would prefer to be grubbing around outside.
Some people keep horses. While horses are usually considered pets, but are working animals, some people get very close to their horses. It more of a close companionship than a really human and pet relationship, but horses do in many cases reciprocate when the humans show affection.
Showing affection implies some sort of consciousness behind the pet’s eyes. Some people argue that while animals do respond to human affection that their response is merely a stimulus/response reaction of the pet to the environment, which of course includes the human being. While pet seems to recognise that the human is being affectionate, the pet is a philosophical zombie, and there is nothing else going on.
I find this argument to be dubious. We after all are conscious beings, and this consciousness must have evolved in our ancestors from scratch. I don’t just mean our human ancestors, but the ancestors of us, apes, cat and dogs, pigs, and horses. In other words all mammals, and maybe even the ancestors of other types of animal. I’d like to think, for example, that Tyrannosaurus Rex had some dim idea of itself and its place in the world.
This is, of course, the view that animal rights’ activists and vegetarians and vegans have of animals as sentient beings. While I have certain sympathies for their points of view, I feel that humans have the right to eat meat as part of their diet, just as any carnivore like a lion or a tiger has the right to hunt, kill and eat other animals.
We are have evolved from hunter-gatherers whose diet included meat from animals that we hunted and killed and our bodies have developed (maybe even evolved) to subsist on such a diet, and we have issues if we try to exclude meat from our diets. Vegetarian diets tend to favour beans and other plant proteins which our bodies are not adapted to digest and plants do not contain much of some nutrients which our bodies need.
Pets are probably kept more for companionship than anything else. The mutual affection between a pet and its owner probably arises from that. Some people (as in any group of humans) tend to go to an extreme, as epitomised by the familiar “cat woman”. Such people often have psychological problems and tend to be somewhat withdrawn from society, and may form an extreme connection with their cats, and have a disregard of their own well-being.
I prefer dogs over cats, because dogs interact with humans in a more human way than cats do, and kids who grow up with dogs will have seen all the training and looking after that their pets need, and themselves learn about responsibility. A pet dog is totally dependant on a human for housing, feeding and exercise. If the dog becomes ill, they learn that the owner is responsible for seeing that the illness is treated, and when the dog dies, they learn how to cope with death and grief.
When the human race expands to the stars, if we ever do, we will almost certainly take our pets with us. The dog, the cat, the guinea pig and the budgerigar will travel to the stars with us. They may be riding on our coat tails, but that is a measure of the success of their species and their connection to the human race.