Human-Animal Relationship

There is a long history of complex interactions between humans and animals, predating civilization. The first such interactions included predator-prey relationships, in which humans were both hunters and the hunted. Later humans domesticated some animals, using them for food and clothing, transportation and as beasts of burden, as well as for pets and companions. Recent psychological studies have revealed intricacies of human-animal relationships. A growing body of scientific literature on animal behavior has revealed that both domestic and wild animals have behavioral patterns that are more diverse and sophisticated than previously thought. The contemporary state of human-animal relationship may be characterized as significantly skewed and exploitative to the benefit of humans. Nevertheless, while humans dominate the planet and control the fate of virtually all other animal species, they remain dependent on animals in many ways.

The human-animal relationship depends on a large part on the distinction the humans make between themselves and other animal species. As anthropology scholar Elizabeth Lawrence notes "the most important determinant of human attitudes toward animals and interaction with them is the degree of similarity or difference that is perceived to exist between people and nonhumans." Lawrence asserts that opinion regarding the degree of similarity is divided, although there is a consensus that "mental as well as physical similarities must be perceived to exist." According to her, the Darwinian evolutionary view implies a continuous human and animal psychology based on such shared traits. Despite this, she notes that animals are perceived by most humans to be "distinct enough from humanity so that they, and not people, are considered appropriate experimental subjects."

Lawrence claims that "at various times throughout history, in comparing animals to humans, various species have been regarded in different ways that resulted in great variation in the manner in which they were treated." She gives examples of totem cults, which embodied the belief that animals have greater physical and spiritual powers and abilities than humans. She also notes the Classical world view that "humans and animals were considered to be closely related, with plentiful opportunity for crossing the borders between the two." It was later philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas and other medieval figures, who in Lawrence's view, propagated the view that animals have limited conscious, psychological and expressive capacities.

A more practical description of the evolution of human-animal relationships can be found in Joana Swabe's work Animals, Disease, and Human Society: Human-Animal Relations and the Rise of Veterinary Medicine. According to Swabe "the most primal relationship between humans and other animals is that of predator and prey." Swabe claims that evolutionary pressures have forced humans to become efficient hunters and gradually master their environment and impose their will on the other creatures including their former natural predators. Hunting became much more sophisticated and the killed animals were used for purposes other than food, such as clothing and medicine. Nevertheless, animal flesh never formed the larger part of prehistoric people's diet, largely because the protein gains were offset by diseases caused by pathogenic organisms harbored in the fresh meat. Only with the advent of cooking and meat preserving techniques did killing animals for food become necessity.

From there on, the path to domestication of animals for food and other purposes was short. In her book If You Tame Me: Understanding Our Connection with Animals, social psychologist Leslie Irvine defines domestication as "the process through which the care, diet and most important, breeding of a species come under human control." The first animals to be domesticated were not animals bred for food, but other carnivores, the canids, which included the domestic dog, wolf and coyote. Irvine explains that the domesticated canids probably aided humans in domesticating grazing species such as cattle, sheep and goats that humans later relied on. Irvine notes that the process of domestication is somewhat reminiscent of natural evolution, but faster because humans impose selective breeding techniques effective in only several generations.

Irvine states that the concept of "pet," only arose later in western culture. To her, a "companion" animal is a more appropriate designation than pet because it leads to a new empathic understanding of animals, accepted as such and not as "workers, decoration or entertainment".

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

If You Tame Me: Understanding Our Connection with Animals
Leslie Irvine.
Temple University Press, 2004
Animals and Modernity: Changing Human-Animal Relations, 1949--98
Franklin, Adrian; White, Robert.
Journal of Sociology, Vol. 37, No. 3, September 2001
Man Meets Dog
Konrad Lorenz.
Routledge, 2002
Pets, People, and Pragmatism
Erin McKenna.
Fordham University Press, 2013
Pets Can Be a Prescription for Happier, Healthier Life
Johnson, Teddi Dineley.
The Nation's Health, Vol. 40, No. 10, January 2011
Pets, Attachment, and Well-Being across the Life Cycle
Sable, Pat.
Social Work, Vol. 40, No. 3, May 1995
The Power of Animals: An Ethnography
Brian Morris.
Berg, 2000
Just a Dog: Understanding Animal Cruelty and Ourselves
Arnold Arluke.
Temple University Press, 2006
The Animal-Human Bond and Ethnic Diversity
Risley-Curtiss, Christina; Holley, Lynn C.; Wolf, Shapard.
Social Work, Vol. 51, No. 3, July 2006
The Human-Animal Bond and Loss: Providing Support for Grieving Clients
Toray, Tamina.
Journal of Mental Health Counseling, Vol. 26, No. 3, July 2004
Physiological Responses by College Students to a Dog and a Cat: Implications for Pet Therapy
Somervill, John W.; Kruglikova, Yana A.; Robertson, Renee L.; Hanson, Leta M.; MacLin, Otto H.
North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 10, No. 3, December 2008
Dr. Fluffy: An In-Depth Look at Animal-Assisted Therapy
Grado, Elisabeth M.
The Exceptional Parent, Vol. 41, No. 5, May 2011
Homelessness and Companion Animals: More Than Just a Pet?
Slatter, Jessica; Lloyd, Chris; King, Robert.
British Journal of Occupational Therapy, Vol. 75, No. 8, August 2012
Seeing in Nature What Is Ours: Poetry and the Human-Animal Bond
Lawrence, Elizabeth Atwood.
Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Vol. 17, No. 4, Winter 1994
Animals and World Religions
Lisa Kemmerer.
Oxford University Press, 2012
Where the Wild Things Are Now: Domestication Reconsidered
Rebecca Cassidy; Molly Mullin.
Berg, 2007
Buffalo Nation: American Indian Efforts to Restore the Bison
Ken Zontek.
University of Nebraska Press, 2007
Search for more books and articles on human-animal relationship