Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Pets: bred to please, or else
Today, back to Lee Hall's book, On Their Own Terms, and some of the things she says about animals who are "pets."
She cites Yi-Fu Tuan* as a source of info about the custom of pet keeping. He says having pets began (not that very long ago) when landowners bred more animals than they meant to consume. Pet keeping then became a mark of affluence – “breeding animals so that they turn into playthings and aesthetic objects.”
People used their leisure and skills to manipulate the reproductive processes of animals so that “they turn into creatures of a shape (think: AKC’s lists of dog varieties) and habit (think: sheep dogs and lap dogs) that please their owners.”
As we well know, Hall continues, “Over the past 200 years, this hobby of the affluent has turned into a high-volume industry.”
Pets in effect are a kind of manufactured animal, far from their original way of life, and humans are in fact the “owners” of such purpose-bred animals, who in turn are dependent on humans. Therefore, words and phrases like “companion animals” and “guardian” sound softer, but they’re inaccurate.
Hall says, “A pet practically has to have a cheerful personality and a strong attachment to humans . . . to survive.” She quotes Yi-Fu Tuan again on this: “A pet is a personal belonging, an animal with charm that one can take delight in, play with, or set aside, as one wishes.”
Shelters and sanctuaries, filled with “set aside” pets, are proof of that.
* Yi-Fu Tuan, Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets (Yale University Press, 1984)