In a house of children not a day goes by without trauma and drama! Today was no exception to the rule. My daughter’s well-loved hamster died this morning and as I looked into my daughter’s tear brimming eyes I realized once more the significance of the pets in our lives. These animals play such a poignant role in the human experience. Animals as labourers, as sustenance, and as companions have been intertwined with human existence throughout our history.
As companions pets become part of our family but of course do not appear as members of our family tree. This is not to say that their stories should not live alongside those of their human counterparts. In a home filled with companion animals I am well aware that many childhood and family memories include our furry friends. While this may seem a more recent phenomenon it is rather an ancient one. The earliest known evidence of pets is from the Natufian Culture of Israel–a human buried cradling a puppy, dated 12000 BC. And while the ancient Egyptians have often been credited with the earliest domestication of the cat in 2000-1900 BC, a Neolithic grave on Cyprus, would indicate an even older Cypriate domestication of 7500 BC.
The Victorian Era was also a glorious time for pets! This can be attributed at least in part to Queen Victoria’s absolute love of animals, particularly dog. It was perhaps Prince Albert’s interest in Victoria’s dog Dash that brought them together in their fabled romance! Victoria commissioned portraits which included her dogs and it became popular for the merchant class and the aristocracy to keep canine companions. Downton Abbey fans, such as myself, will envision Lord Grantham and his faithful friend Isis! This love of dogs and horses has survived in the British royal family of today.
Some Victorians went as far as to create elaborate pets burials and extend their fondness for post-mortem photography to their cherished animals. While many ancients took their pets to their own graves. Burials with humans or on their own in their own right, depictions of human/animal companionship in art, early photographs, and early writings evidence the intimate ties between humanity and animals over time.
Including tales of favourite pets and adventures with loved companion animals, as part of an individual’s family story adds context and human interest. Discovering photos which include family pets or farmyard friends can truly reflect the interests and personalities of those we are researching! Do they look comfortable and contented with their animal friends? Perhaps they look uncomfortable and terrified? I decided to add family animal tales to my family history and search my tree for these family photos and found some true gems!
This Post is dedicated to my animal loving daughter Bronwynn and her hamster, Pepsi! Rest in Peace Pepsi!