Would we keep them as pets? This is a weird thought I had while observing the spell my cat casts over the hearts of passers by. Our cat is a very sociable cat. She loves people. She loves us all equally. She’s an egalitarian cat. She’s also quite a lazy cat. She spends much of her day either asleep on one of my children’s beds or next to me while I work. She greets guests to the house with the same amount of attention and affection she reserves for us when we return home. She is the Beverly Moss of the cat world. She would offer them bowls of nuts and Martinis if she had opposable thumbs.
People like her back. Strangers stroke her. House guests pet her and tell her how lovely she is. The reason? She is lovely. She’s cute, she’s furry and she smells of clean cat. She’s vain (all cats are) and she’s charming.
Were she to be a slug, would she get the same reception? If we had a pet slug, would house guests rush to stroke it (him and her)? I suspect not. So my weird thought is: why do we only want our pets to be cute?
‘How about snakes, rats and lizards?’ I hear you cry. ‘Those are popular pets but they aren’t cute.’ I disagree. Not everyone finds snakes, rats and lizards cute but some people do. Rats are furry. They are intelligent and interesting. Snakes are smooth to the touch and move with elegance. Lizards have beauty and grace. ‘What about stick insects then?’ It is, I must admit, harder to argue against the yuck-factor of the stick insect but I don’t think anyone since the 1970s has kept a stick insect as a pet.
That vast web of knowledge, the internet, tells me that the reason we prefer cute animals for pets is evolutionary. We particularly find animals that have a baby-like quality cute (vulnerability, high-pitched voices, soft body, big head, big eyes) because we are hard-wired to want to protect the young of our own species and so similar qualities to our babies seen in other species turns us into surrogate mothers and fathers. We are transferring that need to protect orphans of our own species to the desire to protect orphans of other species, so in other words, cute furry animals. The Germans even have a word for it: Kindchenschema. At the sight of our cute cat, visitors will get a hormonal boost which will bring on their nurturing side and make them feel good. She’s a drug dealer.
Animals that have some degree of human baby characteristics are at danger of becoming our pets. So no chance of a slug as a pet then? This is a shame because I’d have the pick of the bunch after filming them entering our home one night last year.