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

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

Pets aren't just part of the family, they are family.


Couple relaxing with pug
Couple spending time together with their pug 1

Familial Ties in the Present

Today it is not unusual to hear pet owners refer to themselves as pet parents" or "pet guardians," and pets as "fur babies" or "fur children." For these individuals, pets are integral members of the family, equal to any human family member, and as such, they are given the same level of care and attachment [1]. Indeed, as psychologists Wendy Packman and Rama Ronen and nurse Betty J. Carmack, argue, the relationship between these individuals and their pets can even take on the quality of a parent-child relationship [2]. Similar conceptions of pets as family are found in eighteenth-century literature. Robinson Crusoe illustrates understandings of how animals can serve the triumvirate roles of utility animal, companion animal, and valued family member. 

Robinson Crusoe's Cat with Kittens
Robinson Crusoe’s cat with kittens 8


Like the dogs, the Crusoe’s cats initially served a function wherein they controlled vermin aboard the ship, but became companions on the island. He kept “two or three favorites, which I kept tame” (213). The cats’ position was held in tension. While they provided companionship, they also became nuisances due to their proliferation. Additionally, they were no longer utilitarian as there were few vermin on the island. As a result, “I was forc’d to kill them like vermin… and to drive them from my House” (120) and “the young when they had any, I always drown’d” (213) [3]. Thus, for Crusoe, while pets could be family members, the dividing line was tenuous. 

Crusoe with his parrot, cats, and kid goats
Robinson Crusoe watching his goat kids play 9


On the island, Crusoe finds goats. He captures a she-goat and “bred her up tame” (171) but is not able to find a male to breed her too. Despite that the goat no longer served a function as a breeding or dairy animal Crusoe “could not find in my heart to kill her till she dy’d at last of meer age” (171). Here, Crusoe adheres to Thomas’ factor that a pet was never eaten and Tague’s notion that pets function as companions. Additionally, Crusoe notes that “I always kept two or three household kids about me, who I taught to feed out of my hand” (213-214) [3]. Crusoe’s treatment of these young goats directly ties back to Johnson’s definition of a pet as “a lamb taken into the house and brought up by hand. A cade lamb”[4]. Additionally, unlike the other goats which were kept in a fenced pasture, these kids are described as “household kids” suggesting that Crusoe keeps them in his dwelling space. 

Crusoe and his parrot
Robinson Crusoe holding his parrot 10


Apart from goats, Crusoe also finds parrots on the island. One of the first tasks is “teaching him to speak, and I quickly learn’d him to know his own name” (214). Crusoe notes that the parrot has a name, Poll, whose sole purpose is companionship and entertainment as “I diverted myself with talking to my parrot” (140). In addition to Poll, Crusoe kept two other parrots that “talk’d pretty well” and “several tame sea-fowls” (214) [3]. 


[1]Green, Lorri A, and Jacquelyn Landis. Saying Goodbye to the Pet You Love. New Harbinger Publications, 2002, 17.

[2] Packman, Wendy, et al. “Therapeutic Implications of Continuing Bonds Expressions Following the Death of a Pet.” OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying, vol. 64, no. 4, 2012, pp. 335–356., doi:10.2190/om.64.4.d., 336.

[3] Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner.Second ed., 1719. Eighteenth Century Collections Online

[4] Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. Second ed., vol. 2, 1755. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, 334.

Image Credits

1Henry, Matthew. “Man and Woman Relax Outside with Pug Dog and Coffee.” Pexels, www.pexels.com/photo/bonding-cold-cozy-dog-374845/.

2Paget, Walter. “Robinson Crusoe and Dog Inspecting Cargo.” Flickr, British Library, 9 Dec. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11297531943/.

3Stothard. Illustration from The life and strange surprizing adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, mariner. 1791. ASL 823.5 D362R 1790 V. 1. ASL Collection. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, Logan, Utah.

4Brock, C.E. “Robinson Crusoe and Dog Hunting Turtle.” Flickr, British Library, 7 Dec. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11245451726/.

5Watson, J.D. “Crusoe Begins to Be Ill.” Flickr, British Library, 9 Dec. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11283955913/.

6Paget, Walter. “Robinson Crusoe's Dog Herding Goats.” Flickr, British Library, 4 Dec. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11212654936/.

7“Robinson Cruose and His Dog on the Beach Find Footprint.” Flickr, British Library, 6 Dec. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11231427196/in/photostream/.

8Brévière, Louis-Henri. “Illustration of Robinson Crusoe's Cat with Kittens.” Wikimedia Commons, 26 Apr. 2014, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Avventure_di_Robinson_Crusoe_0153_0.jpg.

9Watson, J.D. “Robinson Cruose Watching His Kid Goats.” Flickr, British Library, 2 Dec. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11165114324/.

10Paget, Walter. “Robinson Crusoe and His Parrot.” Flickr, British Library, 30 Nov. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11141274084/.

11Bordot, Anatole. “Robinson Crusoe and His Pets Eating Dinner.” Flickr, British Library, 26 Nov. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11059090724/in/photolist-hTYnhj-hUaxhg-i5KYa3-hLy7n7-hWrfYZ-hU6ksG-i6Xej5-hRjaaw-i1EvXP-i7Kmxa-hMKNxR-hLy6qP-i6XvsA-hRnuMZ-hLxXsJ-i6Wbsz-hXTVek-hTZUJT-hLz1FA-i1uHZ4-hWmNP2-hLyMM8-hZiYzT-i6X2Lz-i7S5ta-hLy23v-i6QuBG-hLyPsc-hZzyZW-hTTthH-i6XUPg-hUdGf1-hTMZMV-i6XrwZ-i6XsK3-hRocLp-hLyWiC-hTKhNz-hTGdyj-hLy2mB-hTJ7kS-hTzwCP-hRfJo1-hU3rnc-hTuTkb-hTwAuk-hLxQ1Z-hWp2Wx-hLyvbT-hMNE39.

12Lydon, Alexander Frank. “Colored Illustration Depicting Crusoe and His Pet Family Eating Dinner .” Wikimedia Commons, 25 Feb. 2012, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A._F._Lydon_Robinson_Crusoe_Plate_06_(1865).JPG.