People have lived with animals as companions for a very long time. Certain creatures, we accept into our households as additional family members. Owning a cat is an iconic witchy thing to do as well. If you have no children, or are living alone, a fur baby may seem a good alternative. They give warmth, companionship, affection, they make us feel better, provide an alternative to siblings, create laughter and bring joy.
Why is it that we (as a culture) prioritise some creatures while giving so little regard to others? In Living with Honour Emma Restall Orr points out – “…for the vast majority, the incredible hypocrisy of choosing to care deeply for a dog, while eating bacon without a moment’s consideration for the pig (a generally more intelligent creature who has suffered a life of traumatic abuse), is not only rampant in our society, but perceived to be rational and acceptable.”
In many ways our attitude to animals reflects how we relate to other humans. We choose who is inside the clan, the family, and who is ‘other’ and therefore ok to exploit, eat, etc. It may be part of human nature to be clannish, to distinguish ‘us’ from ‘them’ and have different rules accordingly. That doesn’t mean it’s a thing to celebrate. Looking at how, if and why we relate to some animals as family, and others not, can teach us a lot about our own values.
Keeping pets and raising creatures to eat has environmental impact. There’s a New Scientist here- http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427311.600-how-green-is-your-pet.html about the impact pet keeping has. Anyone concerned about carbon footprints needs to also think about the impact of creatures they keep, or who are kept on their behalf. Cats are a disaster for wildlife. Whether hungry or not, many of them hunt, doing horrendous damage to rodent and bird populations. It may be in the nature of cats to hunt, but we keep them in a density that is far from natural, and they deplete the species around them. Animals kept as pets, in cages, for amusement, as living toys… can be ethically uncomfortable too. I write as someone who has kept hamsters. It takes work and imagination to give a caged animal a decent standard of living. Children should not, I think, be given animals as toys.
I keep a cat – he doesn’t hunt, so far as I can tell – he doesn’t go out much and is lazy. He’s taught my child about sharing, and respect, and the effects of pointy paws. These have been good lessons. He sleeps on my bed and I am glad of his presence. I’ve lived with cats who savaged the wildlife. I couldn’t do that again. I would not have taken this cat on had I not been assured that he doesn’t hunt.
As with all other aspects of life, the keeping with animals needs thought and consideration. There’s scope to do it well, or to do it very badly indeed. So much of what is wrong in the world stems from people acting without thought, serving their own immediate desires with little care for long term impact on themselves, much less anything else. How we make our families, who (furry or otherwise) we choose to include, and how we handle that, is of vast importance in terms of how we shape the future for everything that will live in it.