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Pets in Fiction

October 11, 2010

Pets in Fiction

The connection between humans and their pets can be a very deep one. Some would even identify their pets as their children, so close are they emotionally tied to their companions. The recent death of my childhood cat has made me a bit contemplative, and I began thinking about the role of pets in fiction.

Sure, there are stories that showcase animals interacting with humans — Puss in Boots and Old Yeller instantly come to mind — but when they appear, do you consider them characters all on their own, or just extensions of their owners? I’m sure it depends on each individual story, since a pet mentioned randomly in passing won’t have the same effect on a reader as one who accompanies the main human character everywhere.

Do you recall any pets in fiction you’ve read that you felt provided depth to the human characters? Do they elicit any specific emotional response? Do you feel closer to a character who regularly interacts with a pet? Do pets make appearances in your own fiction? All these questions have been running through my head for the last few days, so I figured I would share them and hope to spark a bit of discussion.

For me, personally, I respond favorably when I read a story with a character who is close to a pet, especially if that pet is a cat. This is totally my own bias, since I’m very much a cat person. I have a rather large dislike for dogs that almost borders on fear of being mauled, which I know is completely irrational, since almost all the dogs I’ve interacted with since childhood have been at least partially trained. In any case, it’s just how I am, and so I tend to enjoy stories with cats in them a bit more than those with dogs. I love seeing odd pets in stories as well, from lizards to ferrets to owls.

Choice in pet usually adds a hint more depth to character development as well as how the character interacts with the animal. It says something about a character when (s)he can’t manage to keep goldfish alive, just like it says something to live cloistered away with fifteen cats. A character who enjoys routine and scheduling feedings or play time might prefer a dog, whereas a person who wants to keep a pet contained would prefer fish or a caged animal like a rabbit or chinchilla. A character with a great deal of consistency and devotion might even keep horses. It gives a little insight to a character’s background if they were actually given the pony for their birthday, don’t you think? ^_-

I also find pets a fascinating aspect of paranormal fiction on a couple different levels, mostly because there are so many ways pets can react to the paranormal. If we’re talking more along the lines of ghosts or spirits of some sort, pets like dogs or cats can usually sense it before a human does, which is an added benefit if your character is being haunted. With vampires and shapeshifters, there are all sorts of possibilities as to interactions between the paranormal creatures and the animals. For example, in my novel, Rachmaninoff, which is co-authored with S.L. Armstrong, our vampire, Nikola, doesn’t set off any wayward reactions with animals because animals cannot sustain him and are, therefore, not threatened by his presence. There are other cases, however, where a house cat might freak out when a character brings their new werewolf boyfriend (or girlfriend, as might be the case in our upcoming anthology, Daughters of Artemis). Either way, I love the opportunities that pets create in those kinds of plotlines, both in the way of hinting to a character that someone isn’t what they seem, or even having a bit of conflict if the pet owner wants to keep a shifter or vampire around when their animals protest.

Anthropomorphic characters and sentient animals are a whole other ball of wax that I won’t really go into, but once again, there are unlimited possibilities, both with those characters or beings keeping pets of some sort or being pets to others (insert furry or animal-training kink here?).

I’ll stop there to keep myself from rambling into oblivion, which means it’s your turn!

Do you have thoughts about pets in fiction? Likes? Dislikes? Tropes you think are overused? Tendencies of pet selection in your own fictional works? By all means, share!

***

In Memory of Mittens (March 8th, 1993 – October 4th, 2010) – My beloved “Brat Cat” who softened to a lap cat in his old age and caught a rabbit in his last week of life. He will be missed and remembered always. Rest in peace, Mitt!
~K. Piet
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