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Cats, Dogs, Horses - Companion Animals' Importance to Humans
- By Lisa J. Lehr

While humans are unique in all Creation--in our awareness of self, of time and mortality, and of our responsibility to care for the rest of Creation--companion animals have a place of special importance. Although humans have befriended, benefited, and been benefited by many and varied species over the generations, cats, dogs, and horses stand out in their ability to bond with humans.

A brief history of the domestication of cats

Some experts think the cat was first tamed by 3500 BC. The ancient Egyptians were the first people to keep cats as pets; they also worshipped cats as gods. The goddess Bastet, daughter of the sun god Ra, had a cat's head. The Egyptians loved and worshipped her, and so loved cats. Deceased cats were mummified and given the same kind of burial as human family members.

The ancient Romans, in the conquest of Egypt, brought cats home to Europe. After a period of disfavor during the superstitious Middle Ages, cats were restored to hero status: when rats from Asia brought the Black Plague to Europe, people who had kept cats survived, for their cats killed the rats. Soon cats became protected by law.

In Victorian times, cats were a favorite subject of artists and writers, and were considered part of a happy home. Studies have shown that petting a cat lowers a person’s blood pressure and that elderly people who are able to keep their pets live longer. The healing power of cats is being used to help people in increasingly popular programs in which pets are taken to visit nursing home residents.

...of dogs

Fossil remains suggest that five distinct types of dogs existed by 4500 BC. Illustrations of dogs, dating from the Bronze Age, have been found on walls, tombs, and scrolls throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America. Often the dogs are pictured hunting alongside their human companions. In ancient Egypt, dogs—like cats—were pampered and revered, and only royalty was allowed to own purebred dogs.

Perhaps humans and canines discovered a potential partnership when dogs would scavenge near humans’ campsites, and the humans learned that the dogs offered protection, as well as help in hunting, in exchange for a share of their food.

Through the ages, dogs have been bred and trained to help people with hunting, herding, sporting, and countless types of work, in addition to companionship.

Since then, dogs have been taught to provide an incredible variety of services to humans. While guide dogs for the blind are not a new thing—a blind Germanic king supposedly had one in 100 BC, and a wall painting in Pompeii depicts a blind man being led by a dog—it was not until after World War I that a systematic school for guide dogs was established. Now we have hearing dogs for the deaf and service dogs who assist disabled people in a variety of ways. As with the nursing home visitors, the animals used in these programs often are rescuees from shelters.

Dogs locate people lost in the wilderness and buried in the wreckage of disasters. They sniff cargo for drugs, guns, bombs, and stowaway snakes; some are being taught to detect cancer in people before it's diagnosed by doctors. There are innumerable stories of dogs who have rescued their people--as well as other dogs and cats--from fire, flood, and human perpetrators of evil.

...and of horses

Archaeological and paleontological evidence indicates that the horse was domesticated about 3000 BC—later than dogs and cats. At first, horses apparently were herded for meat and milk. Later, when people had learned how to cultivate grain and abandoned the nomadic hunting lifestyle, they began to appreciate the horse for its finer qualities.

It would not have been easy to tame the horse for human use. The horse is a skittish animal by nature; its instinct is to panic and flee when someone mounts its back, because that is exactly how predators bring down a horse. Yet, fortunately, humans persisted, eventually earning the horse’s trust. Domestication and training of horses had a profound impact on the peoples of Europe and Asia. Travel became much easier, and people began to explore and conquer.

As society became more civilized, the horse’s job requirements changed from carrying the knight into battle to pulling plows, stagecoaches, mail wagons, and even the first trains. With the invention of the internal combustion engine, the horse’s importance on farms and other workplaces all across America became threatened. Most families were unable to keep such large animals as pets, and untold numbers of work horses, tragically, were slaughtered.

Thankfully, horses, not unlike dogs and cats, are now being recognized for their giftedness in helping humans on a more personal level. Organizations are pairing horses with people—both kids and adults—with special needs, to the benefit of both. Generally, the horses used in therapeutic horseback riding programs are “senior” horses, who otherwise might be put out to pasture (or worse). Individuals with a wide range of physical, mental, and behavioral challenges gain self-esteem and discipline as well as balance, posture, and strength. Further, it has been discovered that a horse’s walking motion closely resembles that of humans, and that riding a horse can stimulate a person’s nervous system to duplicate that motion. A disabled person might actually learn to walk by riding a horse.

People in prison and in programs for troubled youth are often given the job of rehabilitating retired racehorses and abused dogs. These people not only save animals’ lives; they return to the outside world with both career skills and social skills. Companion animals are an invaluable gift to mankind, and Gandhi was right: “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Lisa J. Lehr 2006

Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance writer and Internet marketer specializing in direct response and marketing collateral. She holds a biology degree and has worked in a variety of fields, including the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, and has a particular interest in health, pets, and conservative issues.

Please visit her blog at

If you’re looking for a copywriter, go to Just Right Copy--because words sell.

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