I have two dogs at home who I love dearly so I have always been interested to learn why and how we came to keeping animals as pets. If you’re a pet owner, there’s no denying the giddy feeling you get when your dog wags its tail or your cat cuddles up to you. Many owners even treat their pets as another member of the family as mine does. They may cook their pets dinner or let them sleep on their beds. Why is it we love our furry friends so much? There are several possible answers. One being the history of the relationship between humans and animals. Hogenboom’s article for BBC explains that thousands of years ago humans kept wolves because they were useful for hunting and protection against predators. Over the years the wolves became tamed and the idea of keeping dogs as loving companions evolved. However, in some third-world countries such as Kenya, many animals are still kept solely for the purpose of protection and hunting. “Pets” isn’t even a word in their vocabulary. Hogenboom further explains that humans are social creatures, always seeking to form new relationships with others, even animals. A lack of social relationships may lead people to depression or vulnerability to disease and infections (Hogenboom).
But why do Americans see dogs and cats as pets and countries like South Korea or China see them as meals? Harold Herzog of the Western Carolina University explains that this is due to cultural differences. Americans see cats and dogs as pets because all Americans do and therefore it has become a social phenomenon. People in Asia see them as food because that is all they know and pet keeping is not a trend. Studies show that pet/ dog popularity fluctuates up and down about every 25 years or so (Hogenboom).
Image found here.
Another reason we feel so deeply for our pets may be due to chemical reactions happening in our brains when we interact with them. When we look into their eyes a “happy” hormone, called oxytocin is released. MaryAnn Barone describes in her article that this hormone is the same hormone that is released when parents interact with their newborn babies. She goes on to describe a study where researchers combined 30 pairs of humans and dogs and had them look into eachother’s eyes. The levels of oxytocin were then measured and it was found that humans had a 300 percent increase while dogs only had a 130 percent increase (Barone). These results show that humans really do become happier upon interacting with their pets. It is also believed that keeping pets can help lower your cholesterol and boost you self confidence (Barone). This is why many universities bring in puppies for their students to relax and destress with them during midterms and finals week. Petting dogs or cats really does take away tension for many people and put them in better moods.
With all of these potential health benefits how can people not be “pet people”? I can attest to these articles studies in saying that relaxing with or petting my dogs does make me significantly happier and furthers my affection for them even more.