The connection between humans and animals has always been puzzled over and appreciated by pet owners. I know we’d all say this connection brings so much value to our lives, and that having a pet is almost like having a best friend around all the time. Most pet owners even consider pets their children.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to domesticate animals for the sole purpose of companionship. “Every mouthful you feed to another species is one that your own children do not eat. On the face of it, caring for another species is maladaptive, so why do we humans do this?" asks Pat Shipman, a professor of Biological Anthropology at Penn State University. She answers her question by maintaining that early humans took in wolves for their many uses such as herding, tracking and general hunting.
Yellow Stone Wolf Pack via Wikimedia Commons
This may have been true for our ancestors, perhaps explaining some of the innate affinity we feel to animals as children, but it is still worth asking what the nature of our relationship with animals is today and appreciating the modern benefits we draw from having a deep connection with our pets.
Here I would like to discuss the fact that children have a significant connection to animals. I remember the fun I had with my childhood dog, and cat. Sassy and Skittles had a playful innocence that made them great confidants, partners in crime, and comforters. Animals connect children to wildlife, nature, and many virtues such as patience and kindness.
The eyes are the windows to the soul via Wikimedia Commons
Pets introduced to classrooms decrease aggressive behavior and bullying with the positive behavior and kindness they bring.
More than this, animals teach kids about the rest of mankind, other beings with feelings, and the right way to interact with the world. A study in 2004 showed aid dogs could help children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) learn about feelings and needs of those with life where they couldn’t grasp these concepts before. The study also showed that the children and their families’ cortisol levels dropped after spending time with the dog.
Non-judging presence of love
Eden Ahbez wrote one of my favorite lines of poetry in the song Nature Boy, “The greatest thing you'll ever learn / Is just to love and be loved in return.” Our pets help to teach us this as it seems like something that comes naturally to them – to love us and accept our love so easily. Of course, there are some dog breeds that are more loyal than others, but the animals in our lives give their love and happiness so trustingly to their pack leader.
My dog Theodore always has my back
While our other relationships can get very complex, sometimes full of judgment and disappointment, my relationships with animals are simple, pure and comforting.
The non-judgmental love that I receive from my dogs, cat and bunny, along with the fact that I responsible for a big part of their well-being, has cheered me up so much over the years. Going through a spout of depression about 5 years ago made me appreciate my cat Sebastiana more than ever, as she could really tell (more so than anyone else), when I was having a particularly bad day.
My champion Sebastiana hiding
Our pets give us a sense of meaning and belonging that little else can. They depend on me to get out of bed, play with them, feed them and make good conversation with them (that last one might just be the crazy cat lady in me).
Surely there is a lot more to human-animal connections than simple affection. It’s nice to stop and appreciate the role that animals play in our lives and the many benefits we experience by having pets, largely due to the fact that our early human ancestors recognized part of the wolves value when it came to hunting. Going forward I’m sure we will learn new things about our connection with animals and the huge help they are in many aspects of our everyday lives.
She's a feisty one.
I’m Cindy Romero. I have Sebastiana, the Cat Olympic champion of the high jump, with her pink fluffy feather stick-toy. My other pets include a beautiful black lab (Shadow), a calming retriever-lab (Teddy) and a feisty Himalayan bunny (Ruby) that all roam around the house.