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Pets

Pets In Our Lives

Magnolia with Esther Wolf.

While we usually identify pets with cats and dogs, the reality is that any animal (warm or cold blooded), bird, fish, even insects can be a pet if it is something that offers us pleasure, joy or becomes a welcome diversity in taking care of it. Pets also cover the full spectrum of reciprocating affection from none at all to becoming “man’s best friend.”

Most statistics note that some half of Americans have pets of one kind or another. Smithsonian statistics list 78-million dogs, 85-million cats, 14-million birds, 12-million small mammals, and 9-million reptiles. Most will be identified under the category of “domesticated.” A commonly used definition of a domesticated pet is any animal that has been tamed and made fit for a human environment by being consistently kept in captivity and selectively bred over a long enough period of time that it exhibits marked differences in behavior and appearance from its wild relatives. Some of the more exotic in this group might be camels, alpacas, ducks, Siamese fighting fish, yaks and various rodents. Even though some “wild” animals may be kept as pets, having been bred in captivity for a considerable period of time, they are still not recognized as domesticated.

Generally, communities require permits to keep a wild animal as a pet; and for many domesticated pets to be recorded through licensure. The monkey is not considered a domesticated pet but are still sold and kept as pets. Yep, and I have to admit that in my mind’s eye anyway, there is no such thing as a Pet Rock!

When I grew up in a farming community pets had a dual role – they were company, protection, and a buddy, but were also working animals. Red the Shepherd would jump from our lap to go get the cows when milking time came. Our pet cats were left in the barn and out buildings for mouse control. Today we see this in guardian dogs, therapy dogs, blind guide dogs, search dogs, guard/police dogs, and military dogs within this broad category of working animals.

Some experts argue that humans, and basically only humans, keep pets because of cultural reasons, such as the example that culture may look more favorable on you if you have a pet. Whether you agree with this or not, there are numerous studies out there that show beneficial effects on a pet caregiver’s mental and physical health. These studies looked at children, adults and older adults in this scenario covering benefits such as lowered blood pressure, dementia cases, depression, decreased loneliness, and increased social interaction. My niece might argue with this as she is highly allergic to animals. Also, animals can be a falling risk, cause a biting injury, require waste control, and even be a conduit for some diseases or parasites.

Pets have become an industry into themselves. Billions of dollars go into feeding, grooming, housing, and transporting pets. My recent bill for air travel with a 10-pound dog made it clear that owning a pet can become quite expensive.

Experts are not really sure when the first “pets” kept only for companionship came about, but are much in agreement that the first domesticated animal was the dog that was derived from wolf lineage. We also know that cats and dogs were buried with humans some 12,000 years ago, with evidence Romans kept small dogs without utility some 2,000 years ago. Animals have for some time been bred for behaviors, colors, and style.

As I type this, our dog is lying next to me doing what she does best – napping. Should I move into the living room, she will follow to again deposit herself at my side. Yep, that attention and loyalty is definitely worth those two small cans of dog food a day, shots, grooming, and our daily walks.