Furry Friends are Part of Society too
I’m going off on a whim this week by looking at pets, reinvigorating my interest in the topic of humans and non-human animals, introduced by one of my favourite undergrad modules. This article yesterday, about a petition for extending the law reporting dogs involved in road accidents to apply to cats too, suggests to me that cats and dogs have had a different status in society.
The original law (The Road Traffic Act 1988) prioritises the protection of dogs, neglecting the prevalence of road deaths of cats. I have been unfortunate enough to experience the grief of such event, devastatingly so. Of course, in the best case scenario, a quicker report means the greater likelihood of medical attention. So why have dog owners been granted a better chance of closure or hope? Perhaps we can put this injustice down to the colloquial “man’s best friend” mentality which has historically afforded dogs greater status for being the epitome of companionship with humans. Cats are becoming more popular though, given they’re less time-consuming. 46% of households have pets and out of that, 17% have cats and 24% have dogs (PFMA, 2015).
Pets matter to Sociology for the very reason that they are a part of so many humans’ lives. That there are laws to protect pets and that we experience grief for our pets is telling of the relationship between animals and humans. It tells us that in these ways, animals are like people (Fox, 2006). Given that an animal is defined as a pet by the close interaction within a human household, it is no wonder that they are attributed personhood and treated as one of the family. Like many, my pets are integrated into the daily routine of the family, for example, being put to bed when everyone else goes to bed. According to the Pet Census (PetPlan, 2011), we are even including our pet pals in our social media activity with 9% of those surveyed making a Facebook page for their pet and 52% sharing pictures of their pet on their social media page.
But perhaps the very reason we keep pets highlights their difference to humans. Look out for my next post which explores why pet-keeping has become so popular in modern western society!
Fox, R. (2006) Animal Behaviours, Post-Human Lives: Everyday Negotiations of the Animal-Human Divide in Pet- Keeping. Social & Cultural Geography, 7 (4), pp. 525 - 537.