This is a short essay on pets as family members written in straightforward English. It can be used by anybody for any reason. They are my views only. People will have alternative ideas on this subject. I focus on cats and dogs. It was written without reference to the work of others.
Increasingly pets, particularly cats and dogs, are being treated as family members by their owners. This is because the relationship between humans and domestic cats, for instance, is still evolving and developing. If you turn the clock back 150 years, the incredibly popular purebred cat, the Maine Coon, was a semi-feral barn cat living in the farming community in Maine, USA. Back in those days there was a looser relationship between people and their cats. Indeed, there was a less enlightened or empathetic relationship between veterinarians and the cats and dogs that they treated. At one time they were unsure if cats felt pain and now we know that cats have emotions and have many similarities to ourselves which facilitates our emotional desire to make them family members. The cat has been domesticated for about 10,000 years while the dog for about three times that period. The cat’s domestication is a developing process and nowhere near finished. It will continue for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years and at the end of the day the domestic cat may become similar to the domestic dog.
There are pros and cons to treating cats and dogs as family members. On the plus side pet owners are going to have a much closer relationship if they treat their cat or dog as a family member. They are more likely to take their pet to the veterinarian when ill. They’re more likely to be concerned about the safety of their pet which leads to them keeping their cat inside at all times. They might build a cat enclosure or catio. This too is a developing phenomenon, partly because of human population growth and increased urbanisation with associated increased dangers for wandering cats.
Cat owners call their cats “fur babies”; a reflection on the anthropomorphisation of their cat, an extension of relating to their cat is a family member. But cat owners should aware of the dangers of treating their cat as a human because the domestic cat is still, in some respects, barely domesticated. You can see that when they go outside and become themselves, the wild inner self. They are born to hunt and their character traits are built around this single desire. It is good to treat your cat as a family member and it is also good to treat your cat as a cat. Dogs are more domesticated and they are pack animals. Thehey integrate very nicely into family life thereby making them more likely to be treated as a family member.
Sometimes you see cat owners handle their cat as a baby. This is incorrect and a minor example of how there are inherent dangers in treating your cat is a family member. In treating pets as family members there are, as a consequence, commercial spin-offs. For example on the death of a cat veterinarians and pet cremation services need to be and most often are sensitive to the close relationship between human and pet. Often people demand an individual cremation to ensure that the ashes that they receive are those of their cat or dog and not mingled with other animals. Great care should be exercised in ensuring that this actually takes place. Veterinarians treat the euthanasia of pets with great sensitivity and the decision to euthanise a pet can be agonising for the owner. It has some similarities to the assisted suicide of a human being. The pet owner should seek the advice of an experienced veterinarian and make the decision in an objective manner in the best interests of the pet whilst putting to one side their personal desires and interests which might unnecessarily delay the act.
Many cat and dog owners prefer the company of their pets over that of humans. They have developed a relationship with their pet which is more successful than that with another person indicating the true nature of treating pets has family members. The majority of people have a greater empathy with animal abuse than with the abuse of people. This is because, in the modern age, people are increasingly treating their pets as human substitutes and because they are more sensitive to the abuse of a creature who is blameless and helpless i.e. innocent.
In treating pets as members of the family people generally equate their cat or dog to a human infant or young person. In doing this people should not regard a cat or dog’s behaviour as bad just because they don’t like it. Both cats and dogs behave naturally and instinctively and bad behaviour is simply innocent behaviour. It should not result in punishment. Sometimes people believe that their cat or dog will understand the human concept of punishment but they won’t. It will simply put distance between the two and jeopardise the relationship. Bad behaviour by cats and dogs should be seen as natural behaviour that the owner might dislike. It should be accommodated and if possible trained out with positive reinforcement but never punishment.
Seeing cats and dogs as family members is a positive development in the long journey of domestication of the wildcat and wolf but at all times both animals should be respected for their natural behaviour and as different species.