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Defining Pets in the 18th and 21st Centuries: Pets as Commoditites

Array ( [0] => ENGL 6330 Spring 2018 [1] => no-show [2] => student exhibit )

Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.

— Richard Elliot "Kinky" Friedman, American singer


Young Goldendoodle, Shelby
A young Goldendoodle dog1
Pet capuchin monkey wearing a jacket and a leash
A pet monkey on a leash wearing a coat2

Purchasing Pets in the Present

While pets may be viewed as “friend,” or “family,” they are also a type of good that is bought and sold. While there are a variety of ways to obtain a pet, purchasing the animal is the most common means. Live animal purchases accounted for $2.1 billion of 2017 pet-related expenditures[1]. These animals are sold by individuals, breeders, and pet stores who advertise their available animals. Dogs and cats comprise the majority of animals sold. Many of these, particularly dogs, are hybrid breeds or "designer dogs" such as "Labradoodles," and "maltipoos.” Additionally, purebred breeds remain popular. Trends in animal and breed popularity are largely influenced by popular culture, such as movies and advertising. One of many examples is the increased demand for and subsequent market saturation of Dalmatians following the 1996 release of Disney’s live remake of 101 Dalmatians[2].



In addition to "common pets," there are a variety of exotic and wild animals available in the pet trade. Such animals include, but are not limited to; primates (apes, monkeys, lemurs), marsupials (kangaroos, opossums, sugar gliders), rodents (capybara, maras), birds (parrots, macaws, toucans), reptiles (pythons, bearded dragons, boas), felines ( serval, tiger, puma), canines (foxes, wolf-dog, coy-dog), amphibians (snake-necked turtle, sulcata tortoise), and insects/arachnids (tarantulas, hissing cockroaches, scorpions). While these animals are available for purchase, both legally and illegally, keeping these animals as pets raise issues of ethics, proper care, and conservation. 

Although they are a mainstay of the modern pet market, selling, buying, and keeping specialty breeds and exotic animals as pets was a developing trend in the eighteenth century.


Pomeranian Bitch and Puppy
Pomeranian Bitch and Puppy (1777) Oil Painting by Thomas Gainsborough3


Procuring Pets in the Past

Developments in the financial sector along with the financial stability of the period meant a wider array of individuals had access to disposable income (17)[3]. Common consumer goods available for purchase, as enumerated by historian Maxine Berg included, “teaware and dinner services, glassware, japanned tea tables, boxes, cabinets, and trays, plated tea urns, coffee pots, brass and silver, buckles, buttons and medallions, upholstered furnishings, and carpets”[4]. Additionally, this affluence and the growing interest in the natural, drove many individuals to purchase animals as pets. Specialty stores and peddlers filled the demand for pets and advertised their goods in newspapers such as The Public Advertiser (See the page “Pets as Consumers” for more on this). Such advertisements promoted fancy/designer breeds, particularly dogs as illustrated by a 1759 notice. This notice promoted the availability of “a remarkable large Irish Wolf Dog, small Italian Greyhound Puppies, some very small Puppies of the true King Charles Breed, some Cocking Spaniels, the Pomerania or the Fox Dogs[5]” The popularity of foreign breeds reflects the growth of continental influence on British socio-cultural practices (101)[3]. Although individuals valued their pets for a variety of reasons, owners nevertheless viewed them in terms of consumption for as historian Ingrid Tague argues“pets were objects of affection, of course, but they said as much about their owners as any tea set or portrait” (20)[3].


[1] “U.S. Pet Industry Spending Figures & Future Outlook.” Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics, American Pet Products Association www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp.

[2] “10 Movies That Inspired Pet Trends.” Mental Floss, 29 Dec. 2015, mentalfloss.com/article/71877/10-movies-inspired-pet-trends.

[3] Tague, Ingrid H. Animal Companions: Pets and Social Change in Eighteenth-Century Britain. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015, 5.

[4] Berg, Maxine. Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Oxford University Press, 2007, 19.

[5] “The Public Advertiser.” The Public Advertiser, 9 Jan. 1759, p. 3. Newspapers.com.

[6] “The Public Advertiser.” The Public Advertiser, 6 Dec. 1765, p. 3. Newspapers.com.

[7] “The Public Advertiser.” The Public Advertiser, 01 Apr. 1761, p. 4. Newspapers.com.

Image Credits

1Kramtark. “Young Goldendoodle, Shelby.” Wikimedia Commons, 24 Jan. 2012, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Goldendoodle-On-Porch.jpg.

2 Bart E. “Monkey.” Flickr, 30 Nov. 2008, www.flickr.com/photos/barteverts/3068061185/in/photolist-5F7BGD-5FJDq8.

3Gainsborough, Thomas. “Pomeranian Bitch and Puppy.” Flickr, Art Gallery ErgsArt , 20 Oct. 2015, www.flickr.com/photos/ergsart/22329045085/in/photolist-rnzxcz-A29caX.

4Carriera, Rosalba. “Young Girl Holding a Monkey .” Wikimedia Commons, 13 June 2011, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rosalba_Carriera_-_Young_Girl_Holding_a_Monkey_-_WGA04508.jpg.

5Collins, Charles. “Pheasant, Macaw, Monkey, Parrots and Tortoise .” Wikimedia Commons, 16 June 2012, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charles_Collins_-_Pheasant,_Macaw-Monkey,_Parrots_and_Tortoise.jpg.