Pets are a relatively recent invention, according to JSTOR Daily author Matthew Wills. “Most date the pethood concept to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Of course, human beings lived with animals for much longer—dogs have been domesticated at least 30,000 years—but pets are a very special category.” Dogs and cats were buried with humans some 12,000 years ago, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The history of their development is much older, while the story of their importance as companions is still being written today.
A few hundred years ago, European royalty donned garments made with special pockets to stash small dogs, writes Simithsonian author Alicia Ault, who notes that royals traded dogs with each other and commissioned lavish paintings of their animals. More than 100 British epitaphs or elegies for pets were penned in the 18th century. Six were tributes to monkeys, 12 to canaries, 17 to cats, and 53 to dogs, according to scholar Ingrid H. Tague.
Pets were also trusted companions for maritime explorers, according to Atlas Obscura author Vittoria Traverso. Many pets were working animals on exploration vessels “with dogs used for hunting at ports of call and cats on exterminator duty. More than all of this, seafaring animals played important emotional roles on long, grueling, monotonous, dangerous voyages plagued by uncertainty.” As Patricia Sullivan, founder and curator of the online Museum of Maritime Pets, told Traverso, “Sailors were out at sea for months or years at time, so pets were important de-stressors. I think people would have gone mad without something to pet.”
It was a wise ship captain who allowed a cuddly pet on board. At least one study by the American Heart Association suggests that pets can actually help lower heart disease rates. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirm that pets offer a variety of health benefits to their human companions. Depending on the type of pet, they may increase opportunities to exercise, go outdoors, and socialize. “Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels,” according to the CDC. “Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by giving us companionship.”
This year, during the pandemic, many people have turned to pets, new and old, for comfort. That is a smart strategy, according to new research. “Pets seem to be particularly important when people are socially isolated or excluded, providing comfort, companionship, and a sense of self-worth,” according to Janette Young, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of South Australia and lead researcher for a study on pets recently published in the Journal of Behavioral Economics. “Touch is an understudied sense, but existing evidence indicates it is crucial for growth, development, and health, as well as reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. It is also thought that touch may be particularly important for older people as other senses decline.”
Since March, pet adoptions have increased nationally as well as locally. Pet adoptions at Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton have jumped nearly 30%, according to Executive Director Melanie Sadek. “It has been a year when people significantly recognize and value the companionship our pets provide us. We have never seen the demand to adopt like we have this year. It is a wonderful outcome of a terrible situation.”
Public shelters across the state have also seen a reduction in lost and surrendered pets, Sadek says. “This allows our public shelters to keep space available for animals in true need of emergency care, like those displaced due to Covid patients entering the hospital. On the flip side, this has made it increasingly challenging to find available adoptable animals.”
The high demand for pets and low supply can be frustrating for people who want to get a pet for the first time or add to their existing household of furry friends. The Valley Humane Society, for example, has received from 30 to 50 adoption inquiries per available animal. To improve the odds, Sadek recommends that people communicate via the Valley Humane Society website rather than calling, because returning so many phone calls is a challenge for the nonprofit. She also recommends searching shelter websites in a large geographical area. Less picky potential pet owners may also have better luck than ones determined to adopt a specific type or breed of pet only.
Cats and dogs are the most popular but many Americans own hamsters, lizards, snakes, ferrets, rabbits, and other animals as pets. In the study led by Young, the pet owners interviewed mentioned birds, sheep, horses, and reptiles among the types of pets that reciprocated their touch, an important aspect of the relationship humans have with their pets. The Tri-Valley is home to a variety of animals that bring joy to their enthusiastic human caretakers. It is also home to many places to take your pet–at least, if your pet is a dog.
The Tri-Valley is filled with dog parks, dog-friendly restaurants, wineries, breweries, and more, according to Visit Tri-Valley, which maintains a list of local establishments that are happy to welcome dogs as well as their owners. They include hotels, event venues, and dog-friendly shops. There are also local dog parks for active animals. The 1.5-acre Canine Corral in Danville provides hours of leash-free fun. The dog park has separate play areas for large and small dogs. The play surface is grass and includes benches, water features, and minimal shade. Pleasanton has two off-leash dog parks, including Cubby's, which opened in 2016 at Lagoon Road and Bernal Avenue to help serve the city’s then 26,800 licensed dogs.
New and existing dog owners who currently spend more time at home than usual should plan for the post-pandemic future, according to Sadek. “Separation anxiety is a true concern that all dog owners should be considering right now,” she says. Even dogs who spent countless hours alone earlier get used to owners spending much more time with them. A change in that time together can trigger devastating anxiety in some dogs. “Not only is it super sad, but the dogs can become so anxious that they are destructive. It can be very hard to train this out of the dog, and many separation anxiety dogs are humanely euthanized. Working on this now can help everyone's transition later be more successful.”
Over 85% of animal owners in this country see their pets as family, according to Sadek. As a result, “we don't foresee a mass surrender of pets after Covid restrictions are lifted. These worries come from people believing that animals are a thing and not a family member for most people. That simply isn't the case. Most people don't surrender their pets to shelters. Most people bond with their new family member and become dedicated to their care and well-being.” This is not a one-way relationship. As science shows, pets offer a mighty contribution to the well-being of their owners.