Companion Animals Are Helpful To People

Mankind is the most unique species in all of creation because of man’s soul and his ability to think, to reason and to be aware of his place in the scheme of things. Man knows, too, that he has dominion over the animals–that is, that he is to govern, use and take care of them. Interesting, though, while humans have taken care of, benefited from and have interacted with many different kinds of animals, cats, dogs and horses seem to most closely relate to their human friends.

How did cats come to be domesticated?

kitty catsThe first cat is said to have been domesticated around 3500 B.C. with the Egyptians being the first people to keep cats as companions or pets. This friendship was taken to the extreme in Egypt as its people is said to have worshiped cats as gods and goddesses.

Bastet, the daughter of Ra, the Egyptian sun god, had a head that looked like a cat’s head. Because Egyptians worshiped Bastet, they became infatuated with cats to the extent that dead cats were honored with the same funeral rites and burial rituals as human beings. They even mummified their feline friends.

When Rome began its conquest of Egypt, cats traveled with Romans back to Europe. Although cats were not popular because of superstitions during the Middle Ages in Europe, they suddenly regained popularity during the Black Plague when rats carried the sickness from Asia to Europe. Cats rid the continent of many of the rats; people realized that cat owners fared better with the Black Plague because their cats hunted and killed the rats. Afterwards, cats were protected by law.

During the time of Queen Victoria, cats were well loved by homeowners, artists and authors. Nowadays, research confirms that having a pet cat has health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and bringing comfort and a longer life to the elderly. Many skilled nursing facilities have therapy cat programs to allow their residents to benefit from the healing power cats seem to have.

What is the history of dogs as companion animals?

dog with ballThe study of fossils shows that by 4500 B.C. 5 kinds of  dogs were interacting with people, and dogs were depicted on scrolls, in tombs and on walls through out Europe, North America and the Middle East. Many times dogs are shown as hunting companions, and in Egypt, dogs were fussed over and almost worshiped. Royalty alone could own purebreds.

People soon learned that dogs are great partners in hunting and willing protect their human friends. This relationship started when dogs begged and scavenged food near hunting camps. So, through the years, people have trained dogs and developed breeding lines to produce dogs skilled at many different kinds of tasks, including herding and hunting.

Over the centuries, dogs have quickly and eagerly learned to serve their owners. The guide dog actually began in Germany around 100 B.C. with a German king who was blind. A wall painting in the city of Pompeii shows a blind figure being assisted by a canine helper. After World War II, there was a school for guide dogs, and in the present day, dogs serve the deaf and other disabled people, helping them to navigate their daily routines, alerting them to danger and helping them interact with other people. Often, these helper dogs have been rescued from animal shelters and get a new lease on life in service to people with special needs.

In addition, dogs perform search and rescue duties in times of disasters such as flood or great fires or when people get lost in wilderness situations. They function as drug dogs and can also sniff out bombs and illegal firearms. Dogs are learning to detect cancer and other medical conditions.

How did horses come to interact with man?

horseHorses were domesticated around 3000 B.C.–much later than dogs or cats were. Early on, horses were raised in herds to provide milk and meat. When people became less nomadic and settled into an agrarian lifestyle, they began using horses for farm work, transportation and sporting activities.

The horse is a somewhat nervous animal, often panicking if an individual tries to sit on its back to ride it. It makes sense that horses react in this way because predators attempt to kill it by first jumping on its back. When people tried taming and sitting on a horse’s back, they had to be persistent, earn the animal’s trust and be consistent with developing and employing training techniques.

Horses and their domestication impacted the people of Asia and Europe in a very profound way. Horses enabled people to travel more extensively and to explore, wage war and conquer land.

As time went on, the horse became a valuable farm worker, pulling plows and wagons. The horse pulled the stagecoach, carried mail and even pulled the first trains. Unfortunately, when the internal combustion engine was invented and farmers did not require the services of horses, many families could not keep their equine friends, and numerous of these faithful and hard working animals went to the slaughterhouse.

Nowadays, horses help people in a very personal the way that dogs and cats do. Horses are employed as therapy animals for people with special needs. The horses used in therapeutic riding programs are older horses who may well have been put down. The key goal of these programs is to give disabled individuals self-esteem, discipline, balance, strength and other physical and emotional benefits. Research shows that horseback riding stimulates the nervous system and can contribute to a person learning or relearning the ability to walk.

Finally, prisoners and troubled youth often are helped by rehabbing dogs and retired racehorses. The animals’ lives are spared and even improved, and the prisoners learn social and job skills useful outside of jail.

Companion animals are an invaluable resource and truly a wonderful gift to human beings.

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