Animals have been a large part of human life for thousands of years, in some capacity or another. Dogs, horses, oxen, sheep, and cows, were all wild, or have wild ancestors, at some point in history. Then, humans came along and domesticated them for our own purposes. Clothing, labour, and beverages; a very beneficial relationship indeed.
Some of those animals have been allowed to “move up” the chain of command, in a sense. Where before, horses were used for pulling carriages and other such manual labour jobs, they’re now mainly used for recreation, carrying people around on their backs here and there. Dogs have made an even bigger leap. They used to be used for hunting and protection, but I think it’s safe to say that, around the world, most dogs are seen as more ‘companions’ than ‘protectors’.
‘Friendship’ is the main benefit that modern humans derive from dogs or cats – in industrialized nations, at least. We feed and shelter them and give them funny names, and we love and care for them, like a human member of our families. Though they’re not human, are they? They don’t have the capacity to speak or interact with us in any sort of advanced way, and unless they’re specifically taught (trained), then they barely even understand us outside of very basic commands and associations (human with food bowl = food is happening). Therefore, an untrained pet, in relation to its human owner, does little more than exist, and have human thoughts and emotions projected into it. Even a trained pet mostly behaves according to its training – come, stay, don’t don’t do that, bring me this, etc.
Related: Shakespeare; the overrated
So, at some point, you’ve got to ask yourself; how much of the relationship between the owner and the higher life-form pet (dog, cat, pig, and so on) can be attributed to the actions and characteristics of the pet, and how much is simply the owner projecting certain characteristics onto that pet? How much of the owners affinity for the pet comes from what the pet is and does, and how much of it is simply the will of the owner, and their wanting a pet that will provide companionship? Can a dog be replace another dog which is trained in the same way, and effectively become that same dog? Other than superficial changes and slight temperament differences, has there been a real change that the owner has not projected onto the pet in their own mind? Sure, the old dog certainly had affinity for its owner, but the new dog will feel more or less the same way.
It’s been established for quite a while that many different animals can have distinct personalities, but with an inability to speak, and a general lack of agency on their part (the owner is basically the pets entire life), how much does that really impact on the pet/owner relationship specifially?
I contend that the affection that an owner feels for their pet is mostly just a mix of aesthetics, familiarity, and emotional projection on behalf of the owner. I also contend that most of the time, a pets death isn’t as big a deal as it seems, that the loss felt by that death is more a result of a general sense of loss than the loss of that particular pet, and that replacing a dead pet with a similar one will revert the owners life to the pre-pet-death state, with little noticeable change.
You might be hating me right now. You may think that your dog wants to beat me up because of this content, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t, because she lacks the capability for complex reasoning. Now, to finish, I’ll leave you with a simple question; why is it that a dog’s death is a tragedy, but a cows death is dinner? Why are those two animals so different?