Portfolio of Hope

They say that we’re a nation of pet lovers and, we are. Not just a nation, in fact, but a world of pet lovers- there are over 1 billion pets in the world, with more than half of the global population having a pet in their home. But, have we ever stopped to question why we are such ‘pet lovers?’ What is it, in animals, that we seek? And, have we found what we are looking for?…

Why do we own pets? It’s a question that’s been on my mind a lot recently. Having grown up with many an animal- in my 22 years we’ve had 8 cats, 2 dogs, 2 guinea pigs, and more fish than I can count- I am self proclaimed ‘animal mad.’

Cats constantly in and out, dogs barking at every passing thing, fish being…fish, at times, my childhood was the epitome of chaos for my weird ol’ brain but, it was the best sort of chaos, and, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. For, no matter what was going on in my life, I knew that, getting home from school, I was guaranteed to be greeted by a happy little face who was pleased to see me, guaranteed to be met with pure love (I like to think that it was love for me but, I’m still not sure on that one- it could’ve just been love for food)! Whatever the reason though, I knew that the animals were a constant in my life, something that gave me a routine and a sense of being able to control something at a time when, in most other areas of my life, I felt extremely out of control, what with my parents volatile relationship meaning that home life often felt very unpredictable during my childhood. The animals were a sense of calm amidst all of that uncertainty. They got me through a lot, undoubtedly, and, more than that, they gave me a sense of purpose

The question still persists though; Why pets? Why spend money on animals and not, like, going to therapy or something?…

To specifically focus on fish, this is the question- what reason do we actually have to own them? Unlike dogs which used to provide us with a practical purpose- they used to help us with hunting- fish have never had a practical purpose, ever. And yet, humans have owned fish for centuries, from as far back as 2500 B.C! But, why? Why do so many of us own pet fish (around 4 million of us in the UK). Why do so many of us pay for the privilege of owning something that we can’t touch, that we simply watch swimming laps of a tank for a few years (average lifespan=3–5 years, and that’s being generous), a tank which we have to pay for, clean out every week, and top up with food every day, all of which costs us money. For what reason do we want to do this? Why do so many of us want to own fish?!

My belief is that it all boils down to our innate desire as human begins to look after something, even if that ‘something’ is as small as a fish…

Much in the same way that having a child is a ‘protective factor’ for parents, I would imagine, having something depending on me, something that is reliant on me to love and look after it/something that ultimately relies on me for its survival, it serves as motivation to get up and keep going, even when (or rather, especially when) staying in bed feeling sorry for myself feels all too tempting…

And so, whether it be a dog, cat, fish, mouse, literally any domesticated animal- we own pets, I believe, because we have a longing to love and care for something else. Although, the reason for the discrepancy in the popularity of dogs (there are far more dog owners than any other pet owners around the world) is, I would argue, because, compared to other animals, dogs depend on us so much more. If we look at cats, for example, cats are very much ‘solitary’, independent creatures. Whilst yes, we welcome cats into our homes and we feed them, if we were to ‘kick them out’, then they would manage perfectly fine on their own. Dogs, however, would not. Dogs rely on us, not just for food, but also for companion. As pack animals, they are the opposite of solitary- dogs, undoubtedly, thrive around people, it’s how they’ve evolved* to become, quite literally, ‘Man’s best friend.’

Dogs were first domesticated by humans more than 30,000 years ago. Descendants of wild ancestral wolves, the domestication of this, somewhat unlikely pairing of ‘Man’s best friend’, started when wolves began scavenging food scraps from humans, who then began to domesticate the wolves providing them with shelter and protection. In return, the wolves helped the human hunter-gatherers with hunting. As these domesticated wolves were breeding, over thousands of years they became dogs as we know them today.

Today, we don’t use dogs for practical purposes only, in fact, the majority of dog owners don’t use dogs for practical purposes at all, and, certainly not for help with hunting. So, why do so many of us- 31% of UK households own a dog? That’s over 12 million dogs in the UK alone (471 million worldwide).

And, with the average cost of owning a dog being £2000 per year, it’s expensive (with an average lifespan of 14 years, owning one dog will most likely set you back at least £30,000)… With the absence of any real ‘practical’ purpose of owning a dog, and the great expense, there must be a deeper connection for why we evidently dote on dogs so much. But, what is it and, why is it there? What’s it all about?…

Treating dogs as our (fur) babies…

A type of ‘alloparenting’, whereby parental care is provided by humans towards young (in this case, dogs) that are not their own offspring, the bond formed between owner and dog is similar to that formed between mother and baby… Researchers in Japan found that just by looking at each other, humans and dogs experienced a spike in the hormone oxytocin, the same hormone that has a role in maternal bonding/that surges in mothers and babies when they exchange looks.

It is the sense of having something that entirely depends on us for its survival, as dogs do on their owners, that makes them so endearing to us, our maternal instincts setting in when they look at us and we find ourselves adopting a ‘baby voice’ to talk to them, as though they are precisely that- our babies.*

why do so many people own pets?
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

*To support this ‘phenomena’ of people perceiving their dogs as ‘surrogate children’, a study conducted by Legal & General concluded that 71% of people who got a dog during lockdown did so as a substitute for having a baby.

Where does this maternal instinct- the desire to have a living thing depend on us- come from, though?

In a world that often feels so scary, so unpredictable, the routine that owning a pet, particularly a dog that requires walking every day brings, is very much welcomed. Knowing that, whatever is happening in the world- whether that be the wider world (big events like wars and conflict), or your world (getting a new job, relationship difficulties, whatever it may be) you can go home and see your dog waiting for you, it’s… nice. Sometimes, when I look at my dogs I feel overcome with a profound sense of, what I can only describe as ‘calmness.’ Knowing that all the earthly worries I feel, whether that be about money, politics, just the general state of society, my dogs are oblivious to. The only ‘worries’ they have are

1.‘What time will I next be fed?’


2.‘What time will I next be going for a walk?’…

Such a simple life revolving around eating, sleeping, and walking. A reminder of the nature of life in its truest, purest sense. A life that, in the absence of capitalism, we would be living. A life of unwavering peacefulness. A glimpse into what John Lennon meant when he sung ‘imagine all the people living for today.’ Dogs have no anxieties about the future, no grievances about the past, they’re just living for today, minute by minute, the only thing they know how to do. Do they even have a concept of time? It can’t be proven but, just imagine that. No concept of time, so therefore no anxieties about meeting deadlines, no tireless effort to cram as much as possible into every day, basically a lifelong holiday- like when we sit by the pool letting hours pass us by, not berating ourselves for being too ‘lazy’ or too ‘unproductive’, just living in the moment. This is what I see when I look at my dogs;

Childlike naivety,

holiday peace,

present living.



life ❤

And so this ( ^ ) is why I am, to refer back to what I said at the beginning of this post, ‘self-proclaimed animal mad’, because, to own a pet isn’t to ‘own’ anything at all, actually. To have a pet is to have access to the gentlest of souls. To have access to the purest kind of love in the world.

This ( ^ )-

this is why.

3 responses to “Why Do So Many People Own Pets?”

  1. I agree. It does make sense.

  2. Having pets do somewhat makes us feel more grounded and stable.

  3. 100%. I got my dog at a time when I was really struggling with my mental health and having her here gives me motivation to get up and doing stuff

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