Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Animals as comfort

The whole semester, we've been discussing the way that medieval people treated animals, including pets that had no other "use" and something happened in my family that emphasized the differences and similarities to me in the modern mindset regarding animals. My family has always had pets and my parents currently have an ancient cat and a dog about 6 years old. My mother has repeatedly insisted that this is the last one; she isn't taking care of any more pets. She thinks they are far too much effort and trouble and don't supply anything back. However, she does love the dog (the cats another story entirely...), lets it sleep in her bed, and all the rest.

Now, my newborn niece very recently died with no medical explanation (yet) and everyone in my family is taking it fairly hard (of course!- we tend to think this stuff doesnt happen anymore but it does). 3 days ago, my mom's boss brought in pictures of a litter of puppies her dog just gave birth to and sure enough, my parents just got a new puppy and have already started shopping for things for the puppy and they haven't even brought him home yet (he's still too young). She claims that they were just too cute to resist. Now admittedly the puppy is definitely adorable (very few arent) but I doubt my parents would have chosen to get another dog if they weren't hurting from Hailey's death.

Not all animals have to have a use. sometimes they just bring comfort and companionship, even in the Middle Ages: not all dogs were hunting dogs, not all cats were barn cats, not all birds were songbirds or falcons. Childhood death (and death in general) was much more common in the middle ages but certainly not any easier to handle and i wonder how often people turned to animals as a source of comfort. Its not something that there would be much in the way of documentation or evidence for but people's emotional needs have remained the same throughout recorded history so I have a feeling that it happened plenty.

Just a thought.


1 comment:

  1. I wanted to write, "Of course, medieval people turned to animals for comfort in much the same way that we do," but I'm not absolutely sure that is the case. You suggest that not every dog was a hunting dog, not every cat a mouser, not every bird a songbird or falcon, but surely much of the comfort that medieval people experienced in the presence of animals might come precisely from interacting with the animals in this way: in the hunt, as solace from the cares of state; in knowing that pests would not be eating the grain; in listening to birds sing or training a falcon to hunt. Perhaps it is we who are impoverished in our interactions with animals, expecting them to be little more that toys that we can hug simply because they are cute and about the same size (if they are cats or lapdogs) as human babies. That said, we know that nuns and clerics kept pets simply as companions. The difficult thing is knowing whether it is our interactions with our pets that have changed or just our propensity to write about them.

    That said, I hope you mother is enjoying her new puppy very much!