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.