“Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it.” – Criss Jami

Donna Haraway, a renowned professor, speaks in her manifesto, “The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness,” about the relationship existing between companion animals and humans and how this relationship is defined. Haraway brings into question the species barrier, and poses the question, why we as humans regard animals like dogs, cats, horses and others as companions but battle ineffably to let go of colonialist and ethnocentric belief that humans are above other animals – animals that are treated like commodities, those that are eaten and exploited as resources (Haraway 2007:15). Haraway suggests, and this post serves to substantiate, that human life as it is now is resultant only from the associations between humans and companion species; both are companion animals who have shaped each other through an on-going process of co-evolution over many years (Haraway 2007:29). These photos and narratives explore the relationships between people and their companion animals which they consider to be their “significant others.” The narratives are expressed as personal accounts from the people in the pictures, because I believe especially that the relationships explored are best expressed by those who experience them. The last narrative is an account of my own relationship with my significant other.

 

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This is my cousin and her King Charles, Jasper who was a rescue dog. The family went to the rescue centre, with entirely different expectations of the type of dog they would be bringing home. Jasper was obese upon arriving into the family and as a result he breathes heavily when subjected to walks to the park and has since his day of arrival been on a strict diet.

“He takes away some loneliness and keeps me very busy throughout the day. I’d say he is pretty much my baby (he definitely acts like one). He is the weirdest dog I have ever met. He loves watching TV, humping his squeaky toys – despite his lack of ability to move, and being tucked into bed. He had previous owners for about ten years, who were an elderly couple and who we assume fed Jasper literally anything. Not much is known about his relationship with them though. He is probably one of the friendliest dogs ever – loves greeting every single person at the park with a loud snort and cuddle.” – Michaela Martin

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This is one of my best friends Liezel and her Schnauzer, Beckham. Beckham is a sweet, passive dog who has been with the family for years. He stays in Joburg whilst Liezel is away in Cape Town studying.

“Beckham didn’t have a relationship with people before me. He was the reject puppy nobody wanted because of his birth mark and skew ears. He and I bonded over our social awkwardness. We’ve been best friends since we met. He would follow me around everywhere and wasn’t able to sleep without me as a puppy – he refused to sleep with anyone but me. He taught me how to be gentle, caring and loving towards things that others generally want to throw away because by giving him the chance, he turned out to be my best friend. I didn’t have friends when I was younger but I always had him, he was my bestie. He is definitely not a socialite but he also doesn’t shy away from people. He is calm and not aggressive – always up for cuddles, doesn’t matter who’s giving it (although he does have his favourites). Beckie is kind, caring, gentle and giving. He doesn’t grab food, he gently and carefully takes it. When one of us in the family is sick, he cuddles us until we’re better. If my sister tickles me and I scream, he moans at her – doesn’t bark, more makes a groan and a “what you doing to her?” kind of high-pitched wail. He loves people, but not so much other dogs.

To me he is the perfect gentleman, he always asks to sit with me on the couch before he jumps, he waits for me to go into a room first, if he runs ahead, he stops and waits for me to catch up and he never licks me – he gives me nosebutts (which is nice of him because he licks himself and I don’t want that tongue on my face after you know).

Now that I’ve left for varsity, he is basically my mom and dads kid. He was really depressed the first few weeks after I left but soon recovered and found lots of cuddle-buddies. But whenever I come home he screams like a little girl with a high-pitched voice. I bend down to say hello and he puts both paws on my shoulders like a hug and his tail wags like crazy.” – Liezel Shirley

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This is my close friend Kierrin and her cat Jaeger. Jaeger is a sensitive-natured cat with a fireball personality – much like her owner. Jaeger lived with Kierrin in her apartment since she was four weeks old but has since gone to live with Kierrin’s mom where she has developed relationships with other cats and is allowed to roam gardens freely.

“Jaeger has helped me get through each day as I suffer from depression and she was the one that got me through my lonely times. She took away my pain and loneliness. She became my savior in more ways than one. She never left my side when I was upset. She knew when I was having a bad day and she would then lie on my heart and purr. She is the naughtiest cat I’ve ever come across. In a weird way, she reminds me of Tom from Tom and Jerry. She “talks” back when you yell at her and takes you on about why you are yelling at her. She “talks” too much and thinks she can actually speak. I raised her from 4 weeks old, she was very sick and I nursed her back to health. Some days we had a love-hate relationship but I cannot imagine life without the bond I’ve had with her.” – Kierrin Gaffney

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This is my close friend Bianca and her long-haired Mexican chihuahua, Maximus. Maximus is a feisty little dog who challenges almost everyone.

“Maxi is the smallest in the house but is under the impression he is the top dog. He’s aggressive and people are actually scared of him – although you wouldn’t say it from the pictures.

I’ve had the worst luck with animals before he came into my life. He’s my boy and I wouldn’t want any other chihuahua. Honestly, he’s a terror but I love him to bits. He’s always happy to see the family and even though he plays and bites you at the ankles pretending to be angry that you left him at home, he eventually welcomes you home with kisses.” – Bianca Strydom

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This is my best friend Shelly and her cat Luna. Luna was originally Shelly’s mom’s pet but has quickly let Shelly into her heart.

“Luna is an anti-social cat. She chooses whether or not she wants to be your friend or foe. Once she has deemed you worthy of her presence, she’ll be your best friend. She loves playing fetch with me, however, it’s not fetch with a ball…it’s fetch with my hair elastics. She stashes them and loves collecting new ones for her pile! Her soft little paws have never touched soil and I see her as a cat of noble birth. She has contributed to enriching my life, she cuddles me at night to keep me warm, radiates affection when I’m sad and makes me laugh when she pulls the smelly face (as I like to call it). She has only had one relationship before me which was with my mom. I’m lucky to have been the second.” – Shelly Abbott

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This is me and my baby, Mackenzie. Mack is surprisingly the product of two Labradors. He is the epitome of love and anchor of the family. No one who has ever met Mack has not fallen in love with him instantaneously.

Mack as a pup belonged to a friend of mines brother-in-law. The brother in law took the puppy home where he was bitten in the face by the family’s older dog. He was then destined to go to the SPCA, until by divine intervention he became ours. He is four years old now and is undoubtedly a massive part of mine and my family’s life. He is extremely calm and passive in temperament but can be easily excitable with the lure of a tennis ball or bottle of water. Also, he has a strange liking for firewood which he likes to pick up and carry away, often just before a family braai commences. He is sweet and tender and loves cuddles. He is quite an easy-going dog although the family jokes he is high maintenance, since he loves paw massages and generally refuses his pellets without gravy.  He is one of my favourite reasons to come back to Kempton Park from Pretoria on weekends. He has been the absolute object of affection in the family – a gentle giant who believes he is a lap dog. He has a beautiful affinity for almost all people. When my family was struck with grief at terribly difficult loss in the family, Mack refused to leave my sister and I’s side. He curled up at our feet, until we stood up, and then without fail he would follow us.  He has helped me get through very difficult times like the loss of  my grandmother,  and a year before the loss of another family pet who got catflu. His presence is uplifting in every instance of my life and without fail, I am sure, that I will always love this dog. – Robyn McLeod

To people generally, and specifically in this post, these animals are not regarded as animals. They are babies, best friends and saviors. Haraway suggests that to view an animal as a baby or child is demeaning to both animals and children (Haraway 2007:37) however, she also suggests that communication across the species barrier and respect is what really matters (Haraway 2007:42). This cross-species respect develops when humans and animals become significant others to one another.  People develop a relationship with their pets in a way that suggests despite the species barrier, there is definite significant otherness.

“If I have a dog, then my dog has a human,” – Vicki Hearne.

 

We should constantly recognize that we – humans and animals – are “others” but also that this “otherness” has allowed for more than necessary, co-evolution.

SOURCES CONSULTED

Shelton, D. 2001. Pioneer pets: the dogs of Territorial Tuscon: a photo essay. The Journal of Arizona History 42 (4): 445-472.

Haraway, D. 2007. The Companion Species Manifesto: dogs, people and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

 

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