Pet versus companion

By Scott Hunt

The Dog Grumbler

 

IN a radio interview recently, the interviewer raised the question: “When in our history did dogs become pets?”

My immediate reaction was: “As opposed to what?” and I’ve had the question in my mind ever since.

I can’t suggest a date or even a century for the genesis of pets, but I can answer my own question: dogs became pets, as opposed to companions.

Not all dogs — the tradesman’s dog that rides to work and minds the ute and tools while the boss works is still a companion.

The farmer’s dog who works the stock and accompanies it’s boss through the working day, the dog who sits by our chair, watches as we work in the garden or waits in the car while we shop — these are companions.

People rarely come to me with these dogs because they don’t present challenges or problems.

It’s the pet dogs that people have problems with.

A pet is a creature that is loved and cherished, but for a dog this is not enough.

Rabbits are pets. Guinea pigs are pets. Hamsters, cats and even sheep and chickens can be loved and cherished.

They are like teddy bears or dolls, except you have to feed them and keep them healthy.

For a dog, this is not enough.

A pet can be loved and pampered. It can be groomed and coiffed and provided with toys and companions of it’s own kind.

It can be housed in an expensive and extensive enclosure and retrieved to be loved and petted at its owner’s leisure.

It can be a toy, a fashion accessory, a status symbol or even a weapon, but this is no life for a dog.

In fact, in relatively recent times, we humans have done our best to breed dogs that look like dolls and teddy bears, often to the animal’s detriment.

They can still be happy companions, but they are less versatile.

Somewhere back in our distant past, a grey wolf chose to include humans in its life – it taught its young the benefits of scavenging around human haunts.

Over time, the most fearless, less independent wolves became camp followers and we humans became the environment they evolved for.

Much more recently, we started to capture and “tame” other creatures, to put them in enclosures, feed and groom them and take them out to lavish affection upon and we saw that this gave us pleasure.

I believe that dogs are ill suited to be pets.

Dogs chose to be our companions – to help us and share our lives. They never signed up to be possessions.

I believe we are enriched by their company and have much to learn from them.

They believe in us, have faith in us, whether we are rich or poor, pretty or ugly, smart or stupid.

They respond to the consistency of our behaviour and thus they reward our integrity and make us better humans.

Treating them as chattels demeans us both.