Defining Pets in the 18th and 21st Centuries: Pets as Privileged Animals
A house is not a home until it has a dog.
—Gerald Durrell, author of My Family and Other Animals
Pets in the Present
Historian Katherine Grier posits that one of the ways to make an animal a pet is that it has “been singled out by human beings”.One of the most commons means of singling out an animal is to name it. The names given to pets can range gamut. In his article “Name that Dog,” New York Times journalist William Safire identified several trends in pet names, namely dogs. These trends include names of people (Sam, Walter, Belle), ethnic names in correspondence with breed (Fritz the German Shepherd), food (Cookie, Candy), emotional disposition (Pepper, Rascal, Bandit), coat color (Blackie, Amber), and owner’s occupation (Bones for doctors) (4-5) . As to why individuals name favorited pets, anthropologist Edmund Leach proposed that “we tend to name those animals that share our intimate space and that therefore become akin to family members” (6) .The importance of proximity and space is reflected by the common practice of bringing pet animals inside, typically the house. In being allowed inside, it is expected that these animals have a certain disposition, temperament, and behaviors that are compatible with being privileged to live in the domestic space. As a result, pets become reliant upon humans for care and protection. These four concepts of naming, housing, temperament, and domesticity are echoed in eighteenth-century literature.
Found in Arnaud Berquin’s The Children’s Friend (1788), the story “Caesar and Pompey” tells of Mr. Saunders’ “two handsome dogs, one Caesar and the other Pompey. He had named them so”. From the beginning, this work reinforces Thomas’ point that a pet is distinguished from other animals by a distinct name. During the eighteenth century, the names “Caesar” and “Pompey” were popular dog monikers, a popularity that continued into the early nineteenth century .
The dogs are described as “Caesar was extremely meek and docile; Pompey rough and quarrelsome”. To this end, Mr. Saunders gives the dogs some meat which Pompey aggressively eats both his and Caesar’s portions which Caesar allows and does not retaliate. This leads Mr. Saunders to tell Caesar “since you have shewn yourself thus complisant and generous… you shall be in future my own dog, and range about the house as you think proper; but your brother shall be tied up in the yard” . Because Caesar proves himself to be of agreeable temperament he is allowed to enter into Mr. Saunders domestic space, thus reinforcing the connection between pets and domestic space as put forth by both Thomas and Tague, (see “Defining Characteristics” on the previous page for more). Conversely, Pompey has shown he is not pet material and is thus relegated to the space outside reserved for animals not worthy of being allowed to share the same space as humans because of their disposition.
Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel, Gulliver’s Travels, or Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World details the journeys of ship surgeon Lemuel Gulliver as he is cast upon unfamiliar shores by his shipmates. One such shore is the land of the Houyhnhnms, a species of intelligent horses who must deal with the beastly, human-like creatures known as Yahoos. This text depicts a layered portrayal of the defining characteristics that defined an animal as a pet in the eighteenth century.
In Houyhnhnmland, the Houyhnhnms are the superior species and keep Yahoos as work animals. Gulliver resembles the Yahoos but is distinct in his ability to speak. Intrigued, one of the Houyhnhnms, whom Gulliver refers to as “master,” takes Gulliver in as a kind of pet.
Gulliver’s Home and Name
He is given his own “place for me to lodge in…six yards from the house” (31) and separated from the stabled Yahoos who were in a “building at some distance from the house… all tied by the neck with strong wyths”(22). Additionally, he is given access to the Houyhnhnms’ living space which consisted of “a large room…a second room…a third room” (19-20).
Although he is not given a distinct name, Gulliver is distinguished from the other Yahoos through his master’s reference to him as “a perfect Yahoo”(41).
Because of his status as a pet, Gulliver is not subject to work, unlike the Yahoos who are used as draft animals in the field and for transport “coming towards the house a kind of vehicle, drawn…by four Yahoos” (26). Instead, his purpose is to amuse the Houyhnhnms with his ability to be trained by his master who “spent many hours of his leisure to instruct me”(34) as a proto-Houyhnhnm, learning their language and movements.
In spending time with the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver is domesticated. He knows not to use his claws against the Houyhnhnms and to relieve himself outside due to “my teachableness, civility, and cleanliness” (34). He is therefore wholly dependent upon the Houyhnhnms’ protection from the Yahoos and is accompanied by a protector whenever he is let out to roam “being one day abroad with my protector the sorrel nag” (122).
 Grier, Katherine C. Pets in America: A History. University of North Carolina Press, 2006, 8.
 Brandes, Stanley. “Dear Rin Tin Tin: An Analysis of William Safire’s Dog-Naming Survey from 1985.” Names, vol. 60, no. 1, 2012, pp. 3–14.
 Berquin, Arnaud M. Caesar and Pompey. The Children's Friend, Volume 2, J. Stockdale, 1788, 139–142. Eighteenth Century Collections Online.
 Johnathan Swift. Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. Vol. 2, Benj. Motte, at the Middle Temple-Gate in Fleet-Street, 1726. Eighteenth Century Collections Online.
1Tookapic. “Woman with Husky.” Pexels, 17 Jan. 2016, www.pexels.com/photo/woman-girl-animal-dog-40064/.
2Elf Talk. “Quick Release Buckle Collar.” Wikimedia Commons, Dec. 2004, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:QuickCollarNeck_wb.jpg.
3“ Caesar and Pompey.” Eighteenth Century Collections Online, British Library, find.galegroup.com.dist.lib.usu.edu/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=utahstate&tabID=T001&docId=CW3312013598&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE>.
4Swift, Dean. Illustration from Gulliver's travels into several remote regions of the world.1800-1899. BOOK COLL 10 L5-127. Book Collections. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, Logan, Utah.
5Grandville, Jean Jacques. “Gulliver in His Lodgings .” Wikimedia Commons, 14 May 2017, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Podr%C3%B3%C5%BCe_Gulliwera_T._2_str_179.png.
6“Yahoos at Work under the Supervision of a Houyhnhnm.” Flickr, Gwydion M. Williams, 18 May 2017.
7Browne, Gordon. “Yahoos Pulling Houyhnhnms' Sled.” Flickr, British Library, 28 Nov. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11096930943/in/photolist-i7QbJo-hUvd84-hKZPVH-hKYGo2-hKZNwF-hKYF86-hUhnes-ict4DJ-hKZ4Ro-hUAjUP-hKZFxv-hXAszm-hXyq2G-hKZSA2-hUE5GL-hUCC7R-hSW8Uq-hKYY52-hKYZ6v-ibkUKR-hXuPgW-hUDCzK-hKYWy6-hUy8UY-hXwQuS-hUA3v6-hUyHia-hKZwgf-icrrqw-hKZWQK-icstkv-hKZgB7-hKYY2Y-hKYPoe-idMoJx-hUBr67-i6oPhk-hKZjuG-hKYG6P-hKYGqX-hKZ2md-hUBdTv-i8azB9-hUAEXz-hXuUwq-hUwRpM-hXuhdm-hKZEy6-hKZV8g-hKZxVN.
8 Swift, Dean. Illustration from Gulliver's travels into several remote regions of the world.1800-1899. BOOK COLL 10 L5-127. Book Collections. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, Logan, Utah.
9“Gulliver Imitating the Gesture and Movement.” Flickr, British Library, 10 Dec. 2013, www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11305461685/.
10“The Sorrel Nag Protects Gulliver from the Yahoos.” Flickr, 5 May 2017, www.flickr.com/photos/45909111@N00/33979307794/.