Children's Pets: Country Trends

Figure 1.--Here we see an American boy with his dog, a Boston bulldog I think. The snapshot looks to have been taken in the early 1910s. Note the waggon in the background--another classic item for American boys.

This appears to have been a common trend througout Europe and America. There were national differences concerning family pets, but we are just beginning to develop information on this topic. The popularity of pets and children leave us with a wealth of images to chronicle changing fashion trends. Often these images also show the family home as well. Of course the children's clothes change over time, but the pets look the same--although people's preferences toward pets do change. Of course the animals native to a specific country also affect the animals that are popular to keep as pets. While cats and dogs are common in most countries, attitudes toward animals change around the world as do the loval fauna.


One of the joys of childhood is the relationship with the family pet which more often than not was a trusty pooch. This relationship is beauttifully captured in many children's classics (Lassie, Old Yeller, Rin-tintin, and many others). This was something that both wealthy children like this boy or children in more modest familes could enjoy, although in our more modern world, keeping a pet is becoming increasingly popular. Boys probably preferred dogs more than cats and girls may have preferred cats more. There was, however, plenty of overlap between the two. The English stories about pets are popular in America. Lasie was even Americaized for TV. Rin-tin-tin was amovie favorite. Perhaps the greatest pet film in America was the Disney classic "Old Yeller" (US, 1957). Another important film was "The Yearling" (US, 1946). There are many others. A recent example of how celberity-mad America thinks about pets was demontrated by Michael Vick--one of the most highly regarded NFL quarterbacks. American celeberties can get away with all kinds of bad behavior, but when Vick was found to be engaging in dog fighting, his NFL career was ruined and he found himself in jail (2008)


Keeping pets was not very common in China, primarily because of poverty. The Chinese are more likely to eat dogs than keep them as pets. We note that for the 2008 Olympics that dog has been taken off the menu for estaurants approved for Olympic visitors.


It is difficult to say what country most appreciates pets, but Britain would have to be very high up and probably at the head of that list. We are not entirely sure why that was. We see early indications such as King Charles II posing with his spaniel. (17th century). It was probably the Indistrial Revolution (18th century) that was the major factor. The Industrial Revolution had aange of impacts. It generated great wealth and greatly expanded the middleclass. Expanded income and leisure greatly expanded pet keeping. It also resulted in greatly increased urbanization. Thus not only did more people began keeping pets, but they brought those pets inside the home. [Shevelow] Along with these developments, the crusade against slavery began in Britain. Parliament tasked the Royal Navy with the responsibility of ending the slave trade. The British anti-slavery movement focused in on the idea that men and women were being treated like animals, chained, whipped, and even worse. A side affect of that crusade was to make English people increasingly aware of the mistreatment of animals. It is no accident that the nation tht led the crusade against slavery also was the first country to pass an animal cruelty law--the Illegal Treatment of Cattle Act (1822). This was a weak law, but followed a decade later by a revised law which extended the protection of the law to bulls, dogs and other domestic animals, and cattle (1835). We note all kinds of pets, including dogs, cats, mice, donkeys, budgies (paraqueetes) parrots, and snakes. A HBC reader remembers the RAF family dog that they took with them to Germany. Of course one of the greatest pet stories of all time is Lassie Come Home. Another great favorite is "National Velvet". A griter story is "Kes"(UK, 1970) about a kestrel, less familiar outside Britain. And when the British run out of their own pets, they write stories about pets in other countries. One of the best is A Dog of Flanders (US, 1959)--based of course on a British book. Notably we note far fewer srories about pets outside of Anglo-American literature.



One of the many joys of childhood is hving a pet. We note many images of German children with their family pets. Of course the most common were cats and dogs. Several breeds were popular in Germany. The three most associated with Germany are Dashunds, Dobermans, and German Shepards (Alsatians). And we see numerous images of German children having fun with both. Children in rural areas might have goats which were popular to pull carts with younger children. We also see a few children with birds. We seem to note more dogs in American than German 19th century studio portraits. This suggests that pets were more common in America, but we are not yet positive about that.



A teacher writes, "Kenya was an interesting place for pets. Also snakes are popular with girls and boys. A boy at my Kenyan School kept snakes and was killed when one bit him. He was featured in a recent film about his mother. Also at the primary school I taught at in England a little girl had a collection of snakes. "How it was with Dooms" is the story of my pupil with a pet cheetah."


Economic conditions in Russia have impaired the ability of families to have pets.

South Africa

South Africans have the standard dogs and cats for pets that are popular in other countries, Dogs are particularly popular in rural areas where they serve a variety of useful purposes besides just being pets. Boys in particular seem drawn to dogs. And of course on farms they provide great companions for children less likely to have friends nearby. We are not sure about the popular breeds. We are less cure about cats, but we know some South Africans have them. Birds are also popular pets. Some come from Africa. A number of people like to keep tropical fish. We are not sure where they are sourced. A few South Africans keep reptiles as pers, usually locally obtained reptiles.


Shevelow, Kathryn. For the Love of Animals (2008).


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Created: 3:15 AM 4/7/2007
Last updated: 10:57 PM 2/13/2011