Chances are either you or someone you know has a pet. They’re cuddly, warm, comforting, and even utilitarian. But why do we have them? When was it that a person decided, “you know what? I am going to keep this dog?” Was the decision originally purely utilitarian, or was there more at play in the minds of early mankind?
It might seem likely that the first creatures domesticated by humans would be farm animals. And that isn’t too far off. Goats and sheep are among the earliest creatures to be brought home to the villages of early humanity, with archeological records going back to 11,000 BCE. However, the dog wins when it comes to who came first to the human family. Earliest records of domesticated dogs go back to 14,000 BCE, the jawbone of a dog found in the Middle Eastern region of Iraq. Having dogs as pets could date back even further, as well.
Humans choosing dogs as their first pets makes sense when you consider the behavior of our species at the time. We were hunters, nomads, and wanderers. Dogs have a strong sense of pack hunting behavior, and would adapt quickly to life with humans. The bonds made back then have sense strengthened, hence the old adage, “dog is man’s best friend.” When it comes to the keeping of animals, dogs truly are man’s oldest, and best friend.
But why keep them as pets? After humanity discovered horticulture and began farming, building cities, and nations, dogs had been so interwoven into human culture that they were along for the ride. Different regions began breeding dogs to fit their own needs, creating new species. They were kept as guardians, trained for war, and still remained excellent hunting companions. But dogs became more than that. As they integrated into the story of mankind, they became loved. This bond, forged through time, eventually leads us to today, where dogs are owned for no other reason than because you wanted one. Many people own dogs that do not hunt, or guard, or are even of such small variety that they couldn’t do those things even if we wanted them to.
Pets, especially dogs, became companions to our species for many reasons. The simplicity of the connection is perhaps one of the greatest benefits. A dog won’t ask you why you are sad, or angry, or lonely; it will simply cuddle up to you and comfort you as it observes your emotion. The purr of a cat, or the coo of a parrot, or the lip smack of of a dog can have deep, comforting effects on their owners, letting them know that they are not alone, and that their efforts are noticed.
The simplicity of the compassion of pets is perhaps the greatest asset they provide to us. While hunting was and is important to many people, the keeping of domesticated creatures is more than for maintaining the needs of the belly. They fulfill the needs of the mind, the heart, and the soul. Many people have derived a sense of purpose from caring for animals. Leonhard Seppala, who ran dogsleds and was a principle sled runner in the Nome Serum Run of 1925, loved his dog Togo so much that he bred a new species, Seppela Siberian Sled dogs, to preserve his memory and bloodline.
No matter the reason, pets have become a major part of the human experience. People of all walks of life keep pets for various reasons, from managing livestock to managing emotions. It is a rich heritage, and one to be celebrated.