Have you ever raised an animal’s paw to another member of your own species, to pretend it was waving hello? Thomas Gainsborough painted the mild-looking 3rd Duke of Buccleuch doing exactly that in waggling his dog’s paw in greeting to the artist (one dog-man to another) as he encircles it in his arms and thereby created an image popular enough to be disseminated in a fittingly soft and furry mezzotint.
Have you ever been placed in the dreadful situation of having to choose between pet and place to live? Here is Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe, contemplating the enforced sale of Abbotsford, his home, in 1825. Is it the loss of his house that troubles him the most? No, it is not.
The thoughts of parting from these dumb creatures have moved me more than any of the painful reflections I have put down—poor things, I must get them kind masters… I must end this, or I shall lose the tone of mind with which men should meet distress.
And if you have ever made the tearstained journey from vet’s surgery back to your car, heart-, brain-, and soul-shocked at the profundity of what you have just done and carrying what will now never respond to being carried by you again, you will understand exactly the agonies recorded by this owner. I know animals cannot have have advanced surgery such as prolotherapy for instance, but to them any surgery is horrifying.
I am in tears carrying you to your last rest place as much as I rejoiced when bringing you home in my own hands fifteen years ago. —even if they were writing in Latin, and more than two thousand years ago.
A biologist would argue that the earlier a particular mechanical skill develops, the more fundamental its importance; perhaps we might also guess that the more unvarying a response, the further back its human history might reach. There were owners two, five, or ten thousand years ago whose relationships with their animals would be entirely recognizable as those we have today, and maybe further back even than that.
Most fundamentally of all, if you, as owner, have ever lain with your chin on your hands, nose to nose with your own possessor of muzzle, whiskers, or beak and wondered as you looked into its eyes what on earth it makes of you, then you are in company no doubt with them, and with philosophers from Michel de Montaigne in the sixteenth century