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Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies

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1 Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies
Chapter 8: The Pet Animal Copyright Margo DeMello and Columbia University Press, 2012

2 Companion Animals For urbanized Westerners, the human-pet relationship is the only real relationship—other than through the consumption of meat—that most of us ever have with non-human animals. In the United States alone, more Americans (62%) live with a companion animal than live with children (46%). Americans spent over $45 billion on pet food, toys, clothing, travel paraphernalia and more in 2009. That same year, almost 412 million animals lived as pets in American homes. That’s 100 million more pets than people in the United States!

3 What makes a pet a pet?

4 What makes a pet a pet? A pet is an animal that is defined by its close relationship to human beings. Nothing distinctive about the animals we call pets; it is a social construction Generally, the following criteria apply: They are named They are in the house (or allowed in) They are not eaten Generally, they are born as pets, but they could also be wild animals turned into pets a pet was an animal who was named, allowed into the house, and never eaten. These criteria fit many, but not all, definitions of pets around the world.

5 How are pets created? Puppy mills Backyard breeders Hobby breeders
Accidental breeding “Recycled pets” through shelters and rescue groups

6 What makes a pet a pet? Pets, then, are animals that are generally purpose-bred to become pets, are kept in, or near, a human household, are relatively controllable and cared for by humans, and are either domesticated or at least tame. The most popular pets have personalities amenable to being with humans and for many animals, like dogs, they genuinely like being with humans. And ideally, pets should (at least in the minds of animal lovers) enjoy a life of love and attention. The term “pet,” was a fifteenth century English term meaning “spoiled child”

7 The Rise of Pet Keeping People have long kept animals as companions, even by hunter-gatherers with no domesticated animals. Wild caught babies, sometimes nursed by women, kept for companionship and warmth Archaeologists have found the presence of domesticated pets in ancient civilizations going back at least five thousand years. For much of history, animals in small served multiple purposes throughout their lives, including companionship while alive and consumption after death Because keeping (and feeding) animals solely for companionship was quite a luxury, it is likely that animals which were only pets were a luxury for elites. Dogs were the first partner and pet. But it probably was not until after the rise of the ancient civilizations that some dogs stopped working and turned into full-time pets for the wealthy.

8 The Rise of Pet Keeping Some animals were kept as status symbols by the wealthy: birds and ornamental fish which were beautiful and for birds, made lovely sounds Cats were another early companion. Like dogs, cats were not domesticated for food—they were enticed by early farmers to live near human fields and granaries to keep down the rodent populations—and thus were good candidates to live indoors with humans. Dogs were probably the first animal purposely bred as a pet starting about 3,000 years ago, and the first animal to have new breeds developed with no functional purpose. Again, only landowners, royalty, the Church, and other wealthy classes could afford to care for animals who did not earn their keep at this time.

9 The Modern Pet Industry
Pet-keeping as we know it today did not really emerge until the nineteenth century, when enough people had the disposable resources to keep animals only for companionship. This period also marked the rise of the commercial pet industry; the first commercial pet food was not available till 1860 in England People may have begun keeping animals more at this time because westerners had “conquered” nature And with industrialism, and the changes in the agriculture industry which removed farm animals from most communities, animals largely disappeared from many people’s lives, leaving a gap to be filled by the development of the modern pet industry.

10 The Modern Pet Industry
Widespread pet-keeping was also enabled in part by the rise of a middle class, with incomes to support what had been an elite, somewhat frivolous, hobby. Victorians thought that pets would teach children kindness and self control; It was expected that children would learn kindness towards all those who were dependent on others for their care, including pets, the elderly, and even slaves. The pet industry emerged in the nineteenth century, but became a truly commodified industry in the twentieth century. From a handful of pet stores (initially specializing in birds) and companies producing special food, cages and equipment to the rise of the big box chains like PetCo and PetSmart, the pet industry has become an incredibly profitable and powerful industry today.

11 Why we keep pets It wasn’t that long ago that pet keeping was seen as so wasteful and irrational that scholars came up with a number of theories to account for its existence. Conrad Lorenz thought that pets are simply “social parasites:” they have evolved with very cute faces and bodies intended to trigger a parental response in humans. Another theory is that people who develop attachments to animals are incapable of forming relationships with other humans, so we create artificial relationships with substitute people, or pets.

12 Why we keep pets The primary reason for keeping companion animals today is companionship. 60% of dogs sleep with their owners at night in the bedroom, either in or on the bed, and while in the past, most cats lived outside, today most cats are kept indoors and considered part of the family. Living with animals gives people very real emotional, psychological, and even physical benefits. The companionship of animals decreases loneliness and stimulates conversation, encourages laughter, and facilitates social contact, which adds up to an improved sense of well being.

13 Why we keep pets Why do animals have such an important influence on human well being? The biophilia hypothesis states that humans and other animals are naturally drawn to each other, and that this relationship is mutually beneficial. Another approach suggests that humans are hard-wired to pay attention to animals since for much of human evolution we depended on them as a source of food. A different approach is known as the social support theory, and states that anything that provides social support (such as marriage, belonging to a church, membership in a social club) is beneficial to human health because of our need to have social contact.

14 The Human Pet Relationship
Companion animals have a “social place” in our family, household, and daily routines. The human-pet relationship is different from most every other human-animal relationship, in that it is not based primarily on utility, and in that it is truly a two-sided relationship, in which both parties play a major role. When we interact with a companion animal, we are interacting with an animal who we know as an individual, and whose purpose in our lives is one of companion, friend, and even family member. In the most ideal circumstances, the relationship is structured not simply by the human’s needs or interests, but by the animal’s as well. Having a name symbolically and literally incorporates that animal in the human domestic sphere. Having a name also allows for human-animal communication: we can talk to animals., and many can understand some of what we are saying.

15 Talking to Animals Like baby talk, human-pet communication has a clear structure, and, as well, a distinctive tone, set of bodily gestures, and comportment. Beyond immediate communication, this talk serves as a glue in human-animal relationships and, more broadly, enhances the social lubricative function of companion animals in human-human relationships. Clinton Sanders maintains that language enables human and canine interactants to construct and share a mutually defined reality. Animals, because they lack human language, are normally excluded from social exchange with humans, but in the domestic realm, pet owners have made a number of allowances for that lack of language. Pet owners see cross-species communication as possible, and this possibility itself allows for that communication, and for the reciprocal relationships that we have developed with our companions. By opening up the door to cross-species communication, and by including (some) animals in our own worlds, we humanize (some) animals, giving them a “person-like” status. Sanders describes a form of social exchange involving his dog asking (through body language or barking) to be let out, and Sanders acquiescing and letting him out. Both partners played an equal role in that exchange, and both were able to anticipate and acknowledge the needs and interests of the other.

16 Love One of the major reasons we keep pets is because we value having someone “love” us unconditionally. Our pets’ attention enhances our egos, defines us as lovable, and reaffirms our humanity even in social isolation. Many dogs treat their caretakers like the Messiah Dogs who wait for their owners to return—is this because of love or strategy? What about dogs who seem to know when their owners are returning?

17 Grief How do people cope with loss when a pet dies?
Studies have shown that grief is higher when people have a greater attachment to the animal, when they have very little support or understanding from other people, and when there are other stressful events in a person’s life. Contrary to what some people might think, grief is not greater for people without children than it is for those with children, nor is it necessarily greater for people with a single pet than for those with multiple pets. Finally, while women apparently grieve over pets more than men do, it may be that men mask their feelings, because it remains socially unacceptable for men to display feelings in public.

18 Grief and Replaceability
Pets are different from a loss of a person, because when a dear friend or family member dies, they are gone forever. When a pet dies, that space is filled again with a substitute for the dead animal.

19 Development of humane Attitudes through pets
People with pets may have a more positive attitude towards other animals, and attitudes towards pets in adulthood are correlated positively with having had family pets as children, and having had important pets. A number of recent studies points to a correlation between positive attitudes toward companion animals and a more humane attitude toward other animals, and even some very preliminary studies are showing there is a link between positive attitudes toward animals and a more compassionate attitude toward people. Today, some scholars think that living with animals may in fact teach empathy and compassion—towards animals and people.

20 Contradictory Attitudes towards pets
Pets are many things to us. They are beloved family members lavished with attention, love and money. At the same time… The “production” of those animals is often driven by profit, rather than concern for animal welfare. Once they are here, many companion animals experience neglectful and even abusive treatment at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them.

21 Contradictory Attitudes towards pets
And when we are done with them, we bring them to the shelter (8 million per year) where 4-6 million of them are euthanized. It costs taxpayers about $105 for an animal control officer to pick up a stray dog or cat, transport the animal to the shelter, provide food and water for the animal, euthanize the animal if not adopted or reunited with his family, and send the body to the landfill. Animal control programs in this country alone cost $2 billion per year, and this does not count the millions that independent animal organizations spend to rescue and re-home animals. How can we simultaneously lavish extraordinary amounts of love, money, and care on our beloved companion animals, yet at the same time, allow millions of those same animals to suffer and die?

22 Pet Abuse and Neglect Pet animals suffer from cruelty and neglect.
According to The HSUS, the most commonly reported cruelty offenses involved shooting, animal fighting, torturing, and beating. Of neglected animals, seventy percent are malnourished, and thirty percent suffered from starvation. One type of “benign neglect” is the plight of the “backyard pet,” an animal who lives chained or caged outside, isolated from the family and facing health problems, injury, boredom, and behavioral problems. Chained dogs are more likely to bite people, and are more likely to be found in inner cities and poor rural communities.

23 Pets and Domination In the 19th century, the linkage of affection towards pets on the one hand with the notion of control and domination on the other came together. The early pet fanciers were also pet breeders, and the breeding of pets is one of the most concrete, corporeal way in which humans exercise control over animals. This is one reason why for so many years, and still today in fancy pet circles, mixed breed animals were viewed with such distaste—animals that are allowed to have sex on their own, with their own partners, and create their own “mongrel” offspring, are seen as vulgar and uncontrolled.

24 Pets and Domination Today we see this level of control not only in the controlled breeding and genetic manipulation of pets, but in the forms of surgery which they undergo as well. The reliance on cosmetic surgery for dogs is one result of the breeder’s focus on breed perfection. Certain breeds of dogs require, for example, in order to conform to breed standards, docked tails, cropped ears , or both. Some dog behaviorists worry that because dogs use their tails to communicate with other dogs, tail docking puts them at a disadvantage when socializing, and may provide physical functions such as stability as well. Perhaps cats are less popular than dogs is because they can’t be as easily controlled.

25 Pets and Domination Is it cruelty or playfulness to breed a variety of goldfish with dysfunctional bulging eyes?  Or to breed cats who can’t walk? Many modern breeds of companion animals are bred for qualities that we find attractive, but that are harmful to the health of the animal. How much do we really love our pets if we continue to breed them in a way that makes them less healthy and that shortens their life expectancy?

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