The Culture of Dog Ownership
Human beings have kept animals for millenia. In the early, tenuous days of our relationship, packs of gray wolves followed our ancestors as they navigated the prehistoric tundra in search of game. With time, humans began to realize the benefits to the presence of their new companions, and so began a cultural practice which has evolved in ways unimaginable to those early hunters. About twelve thousand years ago, dogs became the first wild animal we invited into our homes, and are arguably the only universally domesticated animal. Because of their ubiquity across cultural boundaries, dogs have been so commonplace that their history seemed to warrant little consideration. What is most remarkable about dogs is their ability to adapt to the needs of the people with whom they live. Dogs have proved themselves amazingly flexible beings, and this was as true in the Americas as it was elsewhere in the world. Not only are dogs a product of culture, but they also participate in the cultures of humans.
Today, over 77 million dogs live in the United States, and 39% of households include at least one canine. () As Americans, we own more dogs than any other nation in the world. Our affluence as a nation permits us this luxury, as any pet ownership clearly requires a certain amount of discretionary income. This is not the entire story, however. It could be argued that this practice has permeated our culture in so many ways, it is an inextricable aspect of Americana. There are few people who have not seen the iconic Norman Rockwell images of a boy and his dog2(), or seen an episode of “Lassie” or “Rin Tin Tin”. Everyone remembers the fate of “Ol' Yeller”, and most people can recall the quiet wisdom of Snoopy. Dogs are present in our pop culture, our identity as a nation, and many of our homes. Even if you have never owned one yourself, you have met a countless number of them. Simply put, they are everywhere.
A large part of the success of...
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