Defining Pets in the 18th and 21st Centuries: Pets as Family
Pets aren't just part of the family, they are family.
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 . 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 . 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.
Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe details Crusoe's life as a castaway on an uninhabited island. Although he lacks human companionship for a time, Crusoe nevertheless has pets as companions whom he comes to view as “my little family” (175). This family starts with “a dog and two cats” (75) he rescues from the shipwreck and brings into his island dwelling .
In place of human companionship, Crusoe’s dog is the ideal companion “I wanted nothing… nor any company that he could make up to me (75)”.Companionship is not all the dog provides for he “was a trusty servant to me many years; I wanted nothing that he could fetch me” (75). "Servant" can be viewed in terms of domesticity as opposed to servitude. Crusoe finds a second dog later who is similarly tempered at the first. The notion of Crusoe's dog as a valued companion is evident in images from illustrated editions of Robinson Crusoe. Many such images place Crusoe’s dog in the foreground of illustrations depicting the novel’s key plot points including hunting, becoming ill, tending the goats, and patrolling.
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) . Thus, for Crusoe, while pets could be family members, the dividing line was tenuous.
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) . 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”. 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.
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) .
Regardless of species and utility, in having Crusoe call these animals “my family,” Defoe reveals that as early as 1719 animals were regarded as being more than just utilitarian in function, and instead were viewed as integral members of the family.
Green, Lorri A, and Jacquelyn Landis. Saying Goodbye to the Pet You Love. New Harbinger Publications, 2002, 17.
 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.
 Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner.Second ed., 1719. Eighteenth Century Collections Online.
 Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. Second ed., vol. 2, 1755. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, 334.
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