Pets with a Mission Inc: The Human-Animal Bond
There is no doubt that humans and animals have a close connection, also called a human-animal bond. People may develop bonds with many species including dogs, cats, horses, small mammals, birds, and reptiles. However, the most numerous family pets are dogs and cats so we most often bond with them. Animals can alleviate loneliness, reduce stress, and provide companionship for many people. Pets can become a person’s best friend and they are frequently viewed as family members. The majority of people believe that the human-animal bond is important to them.
In addition to the animals listed above, people may feel a bond with wild animals. My mother enjoys watching the brown rabbits who visit her backyard. They show up most evenings looking for the carrots that she gives to them. I enjoy watching the squirrels. A few years ago, I cut down a damaged Sweet Gum tree in my backyard. A day or two later, I was working in the yard near where the tree was removed. I heard a squirrel chattering loudly. I looked up and saw a squirrel about eight feet above me. The squirrel was hanging over the branch, staring down directly at me, and giving me an earful. Apparently, the squirrel was upset that removing the tree had upset the flow of the tree top squirrel highway. I have other friends who love watching birds. Besides the colorful Cardinals and Blue Jays, they especially look forward to the annual return of Hummingbirds. My friends provide feeders and houses for “their” birds. For a while, there were two pairs of doves that regularly visited my yard. I liked seeing the doves but I enjoyed watching the squirrels more.
It is well known that men have kept domesticated animals for thousands of years. Animals have provided meat for meals while their fur and hides provided clothing and shelter to humans. At the same time, people provided benefits to animals in the form of food and shelter. Prior to 1800, most people kept animals as their working partners on farms and ranches. People used animals as tools for their own benefit. However, some people saw them as companions as well as workers. Native Americans kept tame dogs, wolves, bison, moose, and bears in their camps. Aborigines in Australia kept dingoes, a type of dog, with them as they moved about. Animals were kept as companions instead of being used for food or to trade or sell. Among the upper classes, some animals were kept as companions and pets while some smaller animals served as lap warmers on cold winter nights. Over time, animals continued working on the homestead but their status increased to that of pets. As the agricultural lifestyle gave way to urbanization, more animals became pets rather than working animals. Today, the majority of animals no longer work as guardians, herders, or ratters and most of them do not live on farms. They are primarily companions in an urban environment. As that happened, people became more protective of the welfare of animals, both domestic and wild.
In the mid-19th century, animal welfare societies came into existence. They were concerned about the welfare of domestic animals. The societies worked to get laws passed to protect animals from cruelty, and ensure they were humanely cared for by providing them adequate shelter, food, and limited working hours. Other laws banned bull baiting, cock fighting, and dog fighting. The lives of animals became more intertwined with those of people as they spent more time inside the house with their families. Pets became family members, and the human-animal bond continued to grow.
Some animals, especially dogs, took on new jobs helping people in ways that had not existed before. They were trained to assist people by guiding the blind, serving as ears for the hearing impaired, and performing other tasks as service animals. A big difference between service animals and the working animals of the past is the close bond shared between service animals and the people they serve. Years ago, a horse helped plow the fields. At the end of the day, they were given food and water and housed in the barn until they were needed the next day. Life is very different for today’s service animals. Service animals have a very close bond with the person that they serve. They live in the house with their person and they are with the person at all times, even when they are off duty. In addition, as service animals, they have the legal right to enter restaurants and other facilities with the person that they assist.
If anything, the human-animal bond has become stronger and more recognized today, and the majority of people view their animals as family members. Over time, they have demanded better foods, supplies, and services for their animal family members. Each year people spend billions of dollars ($45 billion in 2022) to purchase supplies and services for their animals. That demand has carried over into better veterinary care for our pets. Besides seeing a primary care veterinarian, pets may be treated by veterinary specialists such as a behaviorist, ophthalmologist, or an oncologist. They have surgeries previously only available to humans. I know several dogs who have had knee surgeries. During veterinary medical school, students receive training on the importance of the human-animal bond and how veterinarians can support that bond.
People love their own animals and most people are concerned about the care of all animals, domestic and wild. That concern has resulted in a stronger human-animal bond, the accepting the importance of that bond in the lives of people, and the improvement in the lives of animals as a result.