The companion species is a term coined by Donna Haraway in her article,”The Companion Species Manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness” (2007). She explores the human-animal relationship not as an affiliation wherein animals are hunted, farmed, exploited and abused in the name of ‘medical research’ or viewed as pests. Instead, her work publicises the co-existence of dogs and humans who are bonded in “significant otherness” (Haraway 2007:12). Throughout her article,she maintains the viewpoint that “dogs are the most significant example of companion species” (Haraway 2007:3). Dogs have an interesting co-history with humans – one that can be considered “not especially nice; it is full of waste, cruelty, indifference, ignorance, and loss, as well as of joy, invention, labor, intelligence, and play” (Haraway 2007:3). Her thesis looks into unveiling the way dogs are linked to human-beings on a social and biological level and how these animals fluctuate human behaviour. Dogs have been kept as companions in the form of pets, creating strong bonds and being mourned by their owners (Haraway 2007:14). Dogs have instinctually protected humans and aided them with tasks from hunting to leading the blind. It is this relationship with human beings that makes them an example of a companion species.It could then be argued that humanity only exists due to it’s companionship with certain species.
In this post, Donna Haraway’s notion of a ‘companion species’ is explored in the form of a photo essay in which four personal narratives of human-pet relations are documented.
Bun, Simon, Timone & Dexter
This is my little brother, Max, he’s pet-crazy. In the top left corner is Bun, Max found him in the middle of the road and decided to looked after him, we recently released him back into the wild as he has grown to his full size. Simon (top right) is his snake and Timone (bottom left) is our meerkat. This is just to show the broad range of animal companions that a little boy can love simultaneously. For the purpose of this post, I’ve chosen to focus on Max’s relationship with our moody cat, Dexter.
Dexter is not like most cats, he doesn’t play with the heaps of toys friends and family have bought him, he only drinks goats milk and he refuses to be touched by any stranger – ever. But even though he is one of the moodiest cats around, Max seems to have gained his trust and friendship. Dexter sleeps on Max’s bed and brings him all sorts of small, animal presents (including small rodents and birds). When Max was younger, he felt more reassured when his pet-companion slept at his feet and Dexter was more than happy to do so – as long as he received a thorough brushing and scratching session. Their bond proves Haraway’s notion of pets as a ‘companion species.’
This is Geina, we adopted her from family friends almost 8 years ago. She is a border collie who is true to the characteristics of her breed. She herds our chickens and wild rabbits and runs circles around anything that moves. Although she is the family’s dog, she sticks by my side. People can’t believe her age as she is full of excitement and energy. She is the most loyal dog I have ever known, she follows me like a shadow and will lie at me feet wherever I sit. She is obedient, friendly to everything and everyone, and she attempts to mimic how we speak. She takes an acute interest in the other pets and will sit and watch them attentively with her ears perked but she has never bitten or scared any of them. I can’t imagine her not with me but I cannot ignore the fact that she is ageing. I know that when she passes away, I will be deeply hurt and I know I will always remember her. She is the perfect example of a ‘companion-species’ through her loyalty and obedience, positive energy, natural herding instincts.
Oreo was my mother’s baby. Dexter decided to deliver him to our doorstep one morning. Oreo was still pink, the size of my palm and his eyes hadn’t opened yet. When I saw him in Dexter’s jaws I immediately freaked out thinking it was a rat. Dexter eventually dropped the bunny and casually went off to do his own thing. I wrapped the bunny up in a towel and checked if he was alive. By some miracle, he managed to survive 3 more weeks before one day he just went cold. My mother has never cried so much over any animal, she adored Oreo and looked after him most of the time. She bought him a cage, a bed, a feeding bottle and I’ll never forget the excitement that shone on her face when Oreo first opened his eyes. I think, for my mother, it reminded her of her children when we were babies and she felt a sense of purpose and responsibility for the little bunny. The way my mother experienced a parental-bond with the newborn bunny shows that the ‘companion species’ notion made by Haraway has a much deeper connection than most people think. It is possible to feel a strong emotional connectedness with an animal – even when the animal is too young to have an appealing, distinct character or personality.
Hercules the hedgehog belongs to my friend Jonathan. Jonathan bought him from a pet store and the two have been inseparable ever since. Hercules accompanies Jonathan everywhere as he is pocket/travel sized and Jonathan claims his pet does not like being alone. The two make a sweet pair and it is evident that the small hedgehog has accepted Jonathan as his caregiver. Jonathan calls Hercules his son (following Greek mythology, this makes Jonathan Zeus) and has developed a strong bond for his little companion. He gushes with pride as he describes Hercules’ character as being “a naughty little critter” and a “compulsive eater.” Jonathan likes taking care of his pet companion and as a result, the hedgehog is tame, playful and comfortable remaining with his owner. This mutual positive energy creates a sense of friendship and has made Jonathan happy to have Hercules as his companion.
Haraway, D. 2007. The Companion Species Manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.