603: Pet Care

A Thousand Things to Talk About
603: Pet Care

If you could safely care for it and provide for its needs, what animal would you have for a pet?

Full episode script

In 1369, China’s Hongwu Emperor establishes a porcelain company that produces tubs for goldfish. The shape of the modern goldfish bowl evolved from these tubs. This was well over 10,000 years after a human was buried with a puppy cradled in their hands, indicating what may have been one of the first human-canine relationships.


As Smithsonian Magazine wrote in 2016, quote:

The archaeological and genetic record is being combed and analyzed for evidence of when and how the human-animal bond developed, not just to satisfy a craving for trivia, but because it says a lot about the evolution of human society, says Greger Larson, director of the University of Oxford’s palaeogenomics and bio-archaeology research network, which is leading a major international project to determine the origins of dogs.


Not all domestic animals are pets, though they can be—think of a chicken, pig, or a cow. And not all tame animals are domestic—an elephant or a tiger, for instance.


The story of domestication—and pets—is not a linear progression from wild to domestic, he says. It’s more about how animals have taken on different roles in human society over the centuries. “These things exist on a continuum,” says Larson. Asking when the first pet came into being is “a bit like asking when did life begin,” he says.


Humans have likely kept baby animals for amusement as long as humans have lived, says Larson. But, usually, as those babies matured and became less cute and perhaps more unruly, they ended up being thrown back into the wild.


In the many years since, pets have gone far above and beyond small baby animals. Of course, what we call unusual pets today would have been considered pretty normal for royalty in the past. Even the word “pet” derives from the medieval use of the word “petty,” indicating something small or kept for amusement.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.