Man’s Best Friend: How the Role of Pets Has Evolved

Protectors of home and hearth…herders of sheep…hunting companions…rodent control…it’s pretty clear that the role of pets has been ever-changing since we domesticated them thousands of years ago. Beginning nearly 30,000 years ago, dogs (and thousands of years later, cats) emerged as human helpers in a co-evolving partnership.

To this day, many cultures still rely upon these traditional animal roles, viewing them as important to livelihood and worthy of care, but not necessarily equal to human family members. In many westernized societies, pets may be viewed as individuals and cherished companions, worthy of their own rights and freedoms.

To better understand how our views of four-leggeds have changed over the years, let’s consider the role of pets in prehistory and throughout modernity.

Consider Many Factors

While animals have lived with us for thousands of years, the idea of animal companionship for the simple joy of pet-keeping didn’t come into fashion until the 17th century in Europe. In fact, animal menageries were a symbol of wealth and power and often included wild and exotic species.

Because the concept of pets seemed to coincide with civilization, it would appear that pets are indicative of the wealth, leisure, and stability of an established nation. Yet, progress isn’t the only factor in why certain cultures have integrated pets into the family dynamic.