Pampered pooch or fantastic feline - many of us are blessed by sharing our lives with a special and companionable pet, and it really is no coincidence that we have developed such a kinship. Here’s a little background on exactly how.
The dog is the animal which has endured longest as a pet and they have many traditions and fables attached to them. Traditionally dogs were associated with the crossing point between worlds, so they were often the companions of the Gods associated with death, such as Hecate. Equally, they were believed to guide and care for the souls of the dead as they passed into the other world.
Mythical dogs were also said to protect the living, for example, in Somerset, in the UK, folklore recounts the story of The Gurt Dog ("Great Dog") a magical canine which protected children who were playing on the nearby Quantock Hills. It also accompanied travellers; acting as a protector and guide. Reflecting the friendly nature of dogs, in Scotland, it was believed that a strange dog coming to the house meant a new friendship was on the way. Dogs also symbolized the wind and the harvest which chased away famine. This developed more fully in the legend of the Cynocephalus - dog headed man who chased away demons.
Another ancient custom claimed that if someone was bitten by a dog, they should take a hair from the creature’s coat and lay it on the wound which would then be cured. This may sound rather fanciful, yet the modern notion of the hair of the dog as a hangover cure, is a folk-memory from these past times, which is still alive and kicking in the here and now with all its might! Cats have been with us nearly as long as dogs, the Ancient Egyptians adored cats and they were sacred to no less than three Goddesses; Set, Isis and Bast. In 950 BC Bast became a national deity as well as being the Goddess of joy, dancing and music.In Japan, Maneki Neko, or good luck cat, is a beckoning feline that is said to bring good fortune and is very much part of the nation’s culture. It is believed to invite wealth, so piggy banks are often created in the shape of the Maneki Neko. The country is still festooned with images and models of Maneki Neko at every turn.
Like dogs, cats have been associated with the weather, and it was said that if a cat sat with its tail towards the fire the weather would change, if it lay with its forehead on the floor or washed behind its ears, rain was likely, whilst if it chased its tail you should expect a storm! Black cats have a large number of legends surrounding them, originally they seem to have been seen as being unlucky but this was later reversed, so today should you meet a jet black puss on your travels, or if they cross your path, good fortune is likely to follow. Similarly, if you are getting married and a cat deigns to turn up at your wedding, the union should be a highly fortunate one! When it comes to our four-legged friends, science agrees with tradition that having a companion animal can benefit our mental and physical health, so in one way or another connecting with our pets really can bring us good luck.
And of course, some of us can bond more closely with our loyal furry friend, than we can with often fallible humans! But a well-loved pet, looking at us with beautifully trusting eyes, is indeed, a richly rewarding experience for both us and for them!