History Of Pets

CULTURE | September 30, 2019

Hotel For Dogs. Source: (YouTube.com)

According to the pet industry statistics reported by Smithsonian.com in 2016, “Americans own some 78 million dogs, 85 million cats, 14 million birds, 12 million small mammals, and 9 million reptiles.” While some of those may be service animals, the majority are pets who are kept for no other reason than companionship. While pet ownership might seem like a luxury of modern times, it’s actually been around for thousands of years.

One might assume that the first animals to be domesticated were work animals, such as horses and oxen. And one would be wrong. The first animal to be domesticated was actually the dog. Horses were not domesticated until about 3500 B.C. while dogs are estimated to have been tamed between 13,000 to 30,000 years ago. It is speculated that wolves were attracted to the humans in their search for food and humans began feeding them to win their trust.

Cows. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

In any case, not all domesticated animals are pets. Smithsonian.com differentiates between domestic animals, tamed animals, and pets. A domestic animal is one that has been tamed and is kept by humans either for pleasure, for work, or as a food source. Animals such as chicken and cows, which are kept as a food source, are domestic but not pets. On the other hand, animals such as tigers and elephants can be tamed but are not considered domestic and are not pets. In order to be considered a pet, the animal must be tamed and domesticated and be kept for pleasure.

Gray Wolf. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Greger Larson, the director of the palaeogenomics and bio-archaeology network at Oxford, led an investigation into the origins and domestication of dogs. According to Larson, dogs were the first animals to be tamed and used for work as well as a source of food and fur, but it is unknown whether or not they were the first pets. He goes on to speculate that humans most likely kept baby animals for amusement for as long as humans have existed, but that the babies were released or used for food as they became older and less cute.

Wolf puppies. Source: (YouTube.com)

A 2011 study by the University of Maine determined that dogs were being bred as a food source in Texas approximately 9,400 years ago while other studies found evidence of domesticated dogs existing in Colorado as many as 11,000 years ago. Larson’s study revealed that dogs were domesticated 16,000 years ago in Europe and 14,000 years ago in Asia from two separate wolf lineages. Mietje Germonpre of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences discovered a 32,000-year-old canine skull which she believes to have belonged to the first domestic dog.

Hoodie with a pocket to carry a dog. Source: (odditymall.com)

While DNA helps to provide evidence of when dogs were domesticated, determining when they became pets is a bit more difficult. However, there is some evidence. For example, dogs and cats were being buried with humans around 12,000 years ago, suggesting a possible emotional attachment, though it is impossible to know for sure. Around 8,000 years ago, dogs were being buried with valuable items, also suggesting an attachment. Romans were keeping small dogs around 2,000 years ago, but they may have been used as a deterrent to keep black rats away. A few hundred years ago, European royalty was known to keep small dogs in special pockets sewn into their garments as well as to commission portraits of their dogs. It was also around this time that selective breeding of dogs began.

Cats on a Farm. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Other animals were domesticated much later than dogs. Sheep and goats were domesticated approximately 11,000 years ago. Cats were first domesticated to keep mice away from the grain during the rise of agriculture around 7,000 B.C. Agriculture also led to the domestication of cattle around the same time. The development of trade routes around 4,000 B.C. led to the domestication of oxen, donkeys, and camels as they were used to transport goods. Horses, however, were among the last working animals to be domesticated.

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