In the first teaser from KYD issue 23, Jessica Miller looks at the complicated ways we grieve our pets.
Ain Mallaha is the name given to a village built and settled by the Natufian culture between 10,000 and 8000 BCE in the Eastern Mediterranean, in what is now Israel. The village was discovered and excavated in 1954. At one of its burial sites, archaeologists noticed how the bones of a woman’s hands rested over the remains of a puppy. In photographs taken at the site it is possible to see how the puppy’s spine has curled to fit exactly to the loose curve of the woman’s fingers. This, the first discovered instance of animal burial, was also the first physical evidence archaeologists had found of the relationship between humans and domesticated dogs. But while humans have lived with domesticated animals for tens of thousands of years, we have lived with pets for a relatively short time.
The word pet, in the sense of a child that is cherished or indulged, has been used commonly in English since the 15th century. It has also been used, since that time, in some Scottish and Northern English dialects to mean a companion animal, usually a lamb raised by hand; this second meaning was not widely adopted until the 18th century. Pets that served no practical or economic purpose didn’t popularly become part of the family unit until the Victorian era. It was around this time, in 1818, that the noun ‘pet’ was first used as the verb, ‘to pet’, meaning to stroke or to fondle. It was the Victorians, with their cherished, stroked and indulged pets, who established the first pet cemeteries.
The earliest such cemetery was the Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park, established by way of a personal favour granted by a Mr Winbridge, the park’s gatekeeper, to the Lewis Barnes, a family who regularly visited the park with their two dogs. When the Lewis Barnes’s Maltese Terrier, Cherry, died, Winbridge agreed to bury her in a small green section of the park’s grounds. Her grave is marked with a tombstone inscribed, ‘Poor Cherry. Died April 28. 1881.’ At the time of Cherry’s burial, the internment of animal remains in public spaces was illegal. The corpses of most animals, pets included, were dropped into the street for collection with garbage, or they were burnt. But this was a time, too, when the pet, and the meaningful – even ‘human’ – nature of the relationship owners perceived to share with their pets, was becoming enshrined in the Victorian home. With Cherry’s burial private perceptions of the pet and of the bonds between pet and owner began to be codified in the public sphere. By 1903, when Hyde Park’s Pet Cemetery was closed down by the city, upwards of 300 pets had been buried there.
Want to read the rest? Issue 23 will be available online Monday 12th October! Be the first to read it by purchasing a print or online subscription to KYD.
Image credit: Thomas Hawk