Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic Blog
Pet Ownership Has a Long and Rich History (and It Just Gets Better!)
Freddie Mercury of Queen was famous for many reasons, but his 10 cats only cared that he doted on them. Truly a hero to cats, Mercury gave his precious felines their own rooms in his London mansion and called to speak to them when he was on the road.
While Mercury certainly wasn’t the most colorful pet owner of the modern age (after all, Salvador Dali owned an ocelot named Babou), he’s a great reminder of the power of pet ownership – and its rich history.
Roles Central to Our Survival
There is growing evidence that people have kept pets since ancient times. The animals found in graves and depicted in artwork aren’t limited to cats and dogs. Instead, the connection that people have had with animals covers the entire range of the animal kingdom. Over the centuries, we have revered and loved them, but that doesn’t mean they were fully understood.
Man’s Best Friend
There isn’t a lot of hard data regarding ancient pet ownership, but many scientists believe humans domesticated dogs at least 15,000 years ago (some think it could date as far back at 30,000 years!). A grave uncovered in Germany in 1914 confirmed the presence of a young puppy buried with a man and woman. These remains date back to the Paleolithic era (about 14,000 years ago) and reveal that the puppy was cared for at the time of death.
Dogs evolved from wolves and were likely trained to be useful in hunts. There is also evidence to suggest people depended on them to help herd other animals and protect them from attacks. Domestication of early dogs likely began when hunters killed a mother wolf and brought her pups back to camp. The animals became docile when cared for, and over a period of numerous generations, their appearance began to change.
Proof of feline domestication is somewhat younger than, and not as prolific as, that showing canine domestication. A grave found on the island country of Cyprus revealed the 9,500 year old remains of a human and a wild cat buried together, though there is some speculation that cats actually started to be domesticated about 12,000 years ago.
Archaeological evidence in China from approximately 6,000 years ago suggests that cats helped humans farm by keeping rodent populations in check. About 4,000 years ago, cats were firmly embedded in Egyptian culture, being worshipped and even mummified. Held in the highest regard, cats symbolized the goddess Bastet in the Egyptian pantheon.
A recent study, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, actually provides strong evidence that, unlike dogs, cats domesticated themselves. This should come as no surprise to all those familiar with the independence and intelligence of our feline friends. They know a good deal when they see it!
Evolution of Pet Ownership
Owning pets, or co-existing with them, is thought to have been built on their overall usefulness to us. Over time, in nearly every civilization and culture, we adopted them and they adapted to living among us.
The modern age of pet ownership extends to countries around the world. The high rates of pet ownership are in Argentina, Mexico, Russia, and the United States. With more than 86 million cats and 78 million dogs in America, we strive for responsibility, awareness, compassion, and companionship in co-existing with our four-legged friends.