According to history, our most ancient animal companion is dogs. Evidence suggests dogs were domesticated by humans between 13,000 and 30,000 years ago. Archaelogical sites have uncovered evidence of early modern humans working with early domestic dogs to hunt mammoths. Approximately 10,000 years ago, dogs were included in artwork which indicates they were admired and perhaps even loved.

In 2016, an ancient cemetery in Siberia revealed 5,000 to 8,000 year old dogs buried next to humans. Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, who has devoted his life to studying the evolutionary relationship between animals and people, believes this is a significant discovery. According to Wynne, “You get dog burials, which show there was a lot of care and attention paid to the burial and they include grave goods (valuable items placed in the grave for use in the afterlife), which really seems like there was a strong indication of affection.”

The evolution of dogs and wolves indicate dogs started out as wolves who were scavengers. Over time as humans began to feel more comfortable around dogs and vice versa, they were allowed into homes and began hunting with people.

While dogs evolved to be companions of human hunter gatherers, cats evolved to be farmers’ pets. The Natufians inhabited the Levant about 13,000 to 10,000 years ago. They are believed to be responsible for inventing agriculture. They are also credited with being the first to tame cats to eradicate grain-loving mice.

Early cats were not like those we know today. They were more similar to urban foxes which are able to adapt to our human environment while still retaining some of their wildness. Cats are lovely with their soft fur and ability to demonstrate affection towards humans. These features led humans to adopt them as pets.

For both dogs and cats, their domestication may have started with their behavior. As they became more tame they were better able to adapt to human environments. As humans became more involved with selective breeding, characteristics we find most appealing in pets including cute features, a desire to cuddle and a cooperative nature were accentuated. As a result, early dogs and cats evolved into the pets we love today.

Though this explains the evolution of early dogs and cats into pets, it doesn’t explain why we love them so much. Clive Wynne says dogs and cats are not necessarily loved because of their utility. Most dogs are not used for hunting partners and many cats aren’t chasing mice out of farmer’s grain bins. Wynne notes, “My own dog, who I love out of all proportion, is utterly and completely useless.”

There are many theories about why we love our pets beyond all proportion. Many believe pet ownership is good for physical and mental health. Some people believe our love for pets is due to social rather than biological factors. Love for pets perhaps is a contagious habit caught when we see others with their pets. Wynne mused perhaps there isn’t a scientific reason why we love our pets with such abandon. He suggests it could simply be because they are childlike and unable to survive on their own. That sounds right to me. We all love soft and helpless things. What’s even better is the unconditional love they give us in return.