Today, owning a pet is a widespread phenomenon. At the same time, humans have diverse reasons for keeping pets. The following essayis about companion animals and it consists of three parts. At first I will illustrate the benefits and drawbacksfor both the human owners and the companion animals themselves. The second part will be about state regulation of pet ownership. It will be discussed, if more or less regulation is desirable or not.Thirdly, I will elaborate on the question whether the world would be a better place if the practice of keeping animals as pets was outlawed.
The main goal of my essay will be to have a closer look at the human-pet-relationship nowadays. However, I will make some remarks on the keeping of animals in a historical context at first.
In different cultures all over the world, keeping pets has been a common phenomenon in the history of mankind. James Serpell (1989) found that in Australia the Aborigines kept dingoes, wallabies, possums, bandicoots, rats, cassowaries or even frogs as pets, in Southeast Asia indigenous groups kept dogs, cats, pigs, monkeys and various birds. The Indians of North America kept deer, moose, bisons, racoons, wolves, dogs, bears, turkeys, hawks, crows and a variety of other small wild mammals and birds. In general, one can see that so-called “indigenous” peoples have always keptanimals actively. For example, the Brazilian Kalapalo Indians were interested in taming their animals. The relationship to their pets can be defined as filiative or like that of parents and their children. Furthermore, Kalapalos never killed or ate their pets. In other cultures, like in some of the “red races” in North America, it was even common for women to bring up bears by giving them milk from their own breasts. Later on, even in cultures like the Indians of the Canadian Arctic, where dogs were normally treated as working animals, childless individuals and couples occasionally adopted a puppy into their household to satisfy their social and material needs (Serpell, 1989).
Although this was just a short glimpse on history, one can see that people did not always treat their animals with cruelty or kept them to produce food.
Nowadays, there are several theories about the reasons for humans to own pets. For example, it is assumed that humans have social as well as material needs which can be fulfilled through the interaction with a pet at least to a certain degree (Serpell, 1989). Thus, people often connect several benefits with the purchase of a pet.
According to Zasloff (1995)one of the most common reasons for humans to own a pet is because theywant companionship. Studies have shown that the need to be accompanied is common with older people in order to guarantee the quality of life. Sometimes pets are also likely to replace a partner in single households (Stafford, 2008). Another reason for owning a pet is that people might need someone guarding them. In modern communities people often feel safer when they know that a dog is around them, taking care of the house and the people living inside. Apparently, humans also keep pets for fitness purposes, as they pretend to be more active and sportive when they own a dog, which makes them go out for a walk or for some training run.
In addition to that, people’s health might also benefit from exposure to pets in hospitals or hospices. Animal-assisted activities and therapies are a widespread measure to go along with the healing process of patients, and especially in situations where patients lack attention from family member or relatives, exposure to dogs can at least lead to interaction and communication (Stafford&Kyono, 2002). Dogs are also likely to mitigate the effects of autism and other mental health problems in children, as they are able to increase communication and relief stress (Stafford, 2008). Pets can also help children to be loved, to provide comfort, to teach them about life, death and grief and they can show children how to care for another living creature (Stafford&Kyono, 2002). In fact, pets are also irreplaceable in providing mutual assistance as guide or assistance dogs for blind/deaf/disabled individuals (Fogle, 1981).
Furthermore, pets are often seen as part of the family andtherefore count as a member of the normal environment of a social group (Voith, 1985). Although this might sound a bit straightforward, owning a dog or a cat is seen as absolutely normal, because everybody has cats and/or dogs. Thus,the decision to purchase a dog or a cat sometimes rests on some kind of peer pressure (Stafford,2008).