Cats and dogs have tended to rule as top pets, but people keep allsorts, including some creatures usually thought of as farm animals, like pigs and chickens, or seen as vermin, like rats. Living with pets and treating them well means being practical, and understanding your pet’s needs. Indoor cats are in no doubt that it’s our job to entertain them. People with dogs in the UK have to be inventive to cope with less space for walking, and letting dogs have a good run. We’ve learnt more about some species from living with them and watching them. Pet chicken owners know each hen has her personality, which she’s able to express in different ways from intensively farmed hens. Rabbits have become more interesting, now more live outside hutches and are able to explore inside human ‘burrows’.
Why do people keep pets?
It’s maybe difficult to understand affection for a pet spider, but liking rabbits is easier to understand, when they aren’t chomping your vegetables. Cats and dogs want to interact with us, dogs more than cats, but fish aren’t usually bothered. We have some pets just because we like watching them. There are also fashionable and unfashionable pets. Many authors mention the rise of pet cat, dog and rabbit breeds in Victorian times, when posh folk wanted status symbols. Today, ‘designer dog breeds’ reflect the power of fashion.
What is a pet?
Roughly speaking, they’re animals whose company we enjoy, for their personalities, looks, and the little ways in which they can surprise us. It’s not always clear cut whether animals are pets, though. Both pet chicken owners and people with small backyard flocks can enjoy watching their chickens and getting to know them. Sometimes people feed and try to care for feral animals, like stray cats and dogs. We even encourage wild visitors to our gardens, like wild birds and hedgehogs. So keeping pets is part of a human trait of wanting to get to know non-human animals, and to be kind to those we feel a bond with.