For part one in the ‘History of Pets’ it is quite impossible to estimate how many pets there are worldwide. Suffice to say, it must be an astronomical number as there are 800 million dogs and cats alone.
A Boom Year
Estimates suggest the global pet care market will reach over ￡190 billion by the end of this decade. Although 2020 was not very lucrative for most industries, it was a boom year for pet care businesses due to several lockdowns and people working from home, leading pet owners to take more care of their animals.
But how and when did this all happen? Dog owners are probably proud to know that dogs were certainly the first animals to share our lives. But other animals have fascinated us for thousands of years and have crept, crawled or flown into our lives.
Let’s take a look!
The Ancient Egyptians (3,000- 1,500BC) had zoos that included pigeons, suggesting that such birds would also have been present in the gardens of wealthy members of society. Pigeons were probably the first domesticated bird. The ancient Chinese (1,500- 200BC) kept fancy pheasants in their palace gardens, and one could easily believe that these would be friendly and hand-fed.
Persian and Indian writers describe birds in their writings from 3,000 years ago, particularly parrots. The Ancient Greeks were also fond of parrots, while the Romans loved ravens for their ability to talk. The use of avaries and cages for their birds has always been fairly common among the rich. Keeping birds was popular in medieval times and through to the Victorian era.
Falcons were not pets, but have been a close working companion for thousands of years. The dove is another bird that has been popular for thousands of years. Used originally for sacrifice, it was mythologically a favourite of various gods. Maybe not a pet you can handle or fuss over, but certainly one you can admire and love from a distance.
Our modern-day cats descend from the “cat of the woods” (Felis silvestris) dating back about 12,000 years. This animal lived on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris at the dawn of civilisation, before even Mesopotamia existed. They were without equal as rodent killers, protecting the essential crops brought in for winter.
However, it didn’t take long for them to establish themselves into people’s hearts, homes and religion. Ancient Egyptians believed cats were the physical form of the goddess Bastet. She was the goddess of protection, pleasure, and the bringer of good health, so the cat was of particular importance to Egyptian culture!
Cats actually fell out of favour in Victorian times, even becoming vilified. Dogs led the way then as pets, and the Victorian viewed cats as working animals at best and a bad omen at worse. By Edwardian times, they came back into favour amongst the upper class – their resurgence in popularity due to a large part to the artistic works of Louis Wain. It didn’t take them long then to slink their way back into the hearts of every other level of society.
Rabbits and hares go back as far as 40 million years ago when the break-up of the continents spread them in various forms around the world. The original European rabbit is about 4,000 years old. Being so tasty, people initially regarded them solely as items on a menu.
As a bonus, it was also straightforward for poorer farmers and families to raise them. However, when explorers introduced rabbits to Britain as food in the 12th century, there were quite quickly tales of female gentry taking them up as pets. By the 15th century, rabbits of various breeds, colours and sizes had appeared.
The most distinctive type of that time was the black and white Dutch rabbit – I had one of these in my youth, and it was simply adorable. For rabbits, the rest, as they say, is history, and the UK now has over a million bunnies in its homes! Next time, let’s look at those other pets that have become adored family members over the last thousands of years.
For more pet articles, click here.