The Human-Animal Bond
July 14, 2011
Humans and animals have interacted together for thousands of
years. From the very first people who decided to domesticate the
dog, to the present day "pioneers" that choose to keep goats and
pigs in their houses, animals have played huge roles in the lives
of many people. While early civilization saw them as mainly a food
and fiber source or a hunting tool, modern society views them as
companions, family, and best friends. The human-pet bond concept
emerged in veterinary medicine as recently as the last few decades,
and it has caused the companion animal industry to explode.
According to Dr. M. A. Crist, clinical assistant professor at
the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences, the inclusion of pets in many non-traditional activities,
such as family ceremonies, photos, trips and gatherings, drives
part of the pet industry today.
"Many of today's pets are now considered part of the family and
are treated as family members," explains Crist. "For example, some
clients have pet chickens that live in their houses. The chickens
wear little pantaloons to catch their droppings in the house so
that they do not make a mess. Chickens are actually becoming quite
popular as family pets."
Many pet owners include their pets in their day-to-day
activities, and a lot of them include their pets in social outings.
Some people raise and show pets as part of their livelihood, while
others do so as a sport.
"The human-animal bond has definitely become stronger and more
apparent," says Crist. "Society is experiencing more legal issues
with pets such as pets having guardians, becoming heirs to large
family fortunes, or becoming disputed over in divorces. People are
wanting to make sure their pets are provided for in the event of
their deaths, causing the inception of companion animal centers
that care for pets when their owners pass away or are no longer
able to care for them."
An example of such a facility is the Stevenson Companion Animal
Life Care Center in College Station, Texas, where animals are
provided life-long care in a home-like environment.
What has caused this shift in the way people view animals?
"In the past, most dogs and cats were kept outside on the family
farm or ranch," states Crist. "The dogs were sometimes used to help
work the cattle or guard the sheep, and the cats were kept around
to keep the mice or snake population under control. These
working dogs and cats were usually fed table scraps and taken care
of in passing when a veterinarian came out on a call to check a
As populations changed and urbanization began, dogs and cats
started moving into the house, and the human-pet bond thus began to
grow and strengthen. Additionally, the bond developed in food and
farm animals as well.
"Youth began to get involved in FFA and 4-H programs in schools
and became involved in raising and showing sheep, steers, goats,
pigs, chickens, rabbits, and other food animals for competition,"
explains Crist. "Many of these youth enjoyed the companionship of
the farm animals that they raised and showed, and then as adults
they purchased farm animals to have simply as personal pets."
As people and animals began living together, the bond between
them became more emotional. Traditional uses of animals were
questioned and modified to satisfy the want of companionship.
"As veterinarians, we are seeing a trend toward some farm pets
being kept in the house as personal pets," reveals Crist. "New
miniature breeds, or "designer" breeds, are becoming popular so
that these pets can be kept in smaller spaces. For example,
the miniature micro pig, or teacup pig, is a pig smaller than the
potbelly pig and is becoming a popular house-hold pet."
Again, this is an instance of how far food animals have come in
regards to their relationship with humans.
"Years before, food animals were raised simply for that- food-
and did not have long lives," asserts Crist. "Today, some food
animals are kept as pets and will live to be quite old. As
veterinarians, we are now learning some of the diseases and issues
that go along with geriatric (older) food and farm animals. We have
improved greatly at pain management for these animals, and we have
a better understanding of the pharmacokinetics (action of drugs in
the body over a period of time) of the medications we can use in
Snakes, birds, dogs, horses, goats, cats- for all pet species,
there are humans that love them. Pet owners want their pets to live
long lives so that they can have as much time with them as
possible. This simple need for companionship has helped to greatly
improve diagnostics in veterinary medicine, as many of the
diagnostics and treatments that are available to humans are now
available to animals too. Owners want the best for their pets, and
in return, they receive a life-long friend that might bear a ring
in a wedding, pose in the family photo, or follow them room-to-room
while wearing pantaloons.
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