The global pet industry is around $235 billion and projected to reach $368 billion by 2030. Even without studying economic data, it’s easy to see how passionate people are about their pets. Maybe you are a pet owner (some prefer a word like companion) yourself or maybe you aren’t and roll your eyes at the constant barrage of pet photos online while dodging dogs and leashes as you make your way down the street.
We could just observe that dogs and cats (and other pets, though furry pets are the most popular by far) are inherently lovable and stop there. But this doesn’t explain why pets are getting more popular and why pet owners seem to be getting ever-more obsessed with feeding, playing with, and caring for their non-human companions. I’ve worked as a pet sitter for the last ten or so years and I’ve loved the many hours I’ve spent with animals. So I understand their appeal. I still find it interesting to ask why pets play such a central role in many people’s lives today.
The Short History of Pets
An article in JSTOR Daily, The Invention of Pets, traces the concept of pet ownership only as far back as the 18th century. Prior to this -for most of history- people mainly kept animals for utilitarian reasons, either as sources of food or work (e.g. horses, work dogs). This isn’t to say people before this time weren’t fond of animals. The difference is that these emotional bonds were more in the background of life. As pets, animals are commanding a more central place in our emotional lives.
As fewer people are directly involved with farming, it’s more common to value animals primarily as companions, even as family members. Pew Research reports that 97% of pet owners see their pets as members of the family.
In recent decades, not only is pet ownership increasing, but people are devoting more and more time and money to them, spawning countless products and services such as pet toys, pet houses, grooming services and products, professional dog walkers, pet sitters, and so on.
Pet ownership is also connected to social and economic class. It takes a certain amount of space and disposable income to patronize all the luxuries supplied by the modern pet industry. Poor and working class people (even homeless people) certainly have their…