We're just crazy about our pets

JILLIAN ALLISON-AITKEN (WITH HELP FROM SEYMOUR AND NORMAN)
Last updated 15:00 14/07/2014

BOOK REVIEW: Creature Comforts: New Zealanders and their Pets
By Nancy Swarbrick (Otago University Press, RRP $55)

Kiwis tend to fall into two categories when it comes to our furry, feathered and/or scaled friends: we are either pet-owners or poorly adjusted human beings who are incapable of forming real, meaningful relationships and doomed to a life of loneliness and social ineptitude.

OK, perhaps that is a tad harsh and judgmental. I guess there are some pet-owners out there who may be a little poorly adjusted.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with a 2011 survey showing 68 per cent of Kiwi households had a least one pet. Of those, almost half were occupied by cats (take that, Gareth Morgan) and nearly a third by dogs.

Author Nancy Swarbrick says she set out to gain some understanding of why New Zealanders are so fond of their animal companions by tracing the development of pet culture in this country.

"I define 'pet' very broadly to include companion animals of all kinds," the Wellington-based historian says.

Creature Comforts looks at the different kinds of relationships we have with our critters and how that has changed over the years, including the pets that came with the early settlers, those kept by pre-European Maori and - of course - the pets we have today.

"Because of New Zealand's geographical isolation, animals were important in helping adjust to a new life - both Maori and Pakeha brought animals with them," Swarbrick says.

So we know we love our pets, even if they moult, scratch the furniture and mess up the house, but this book is the first time anyone has really looked at just how they came to be such an integral part of the New Zealand way of life.

This as much a look at New Zealand's social history as it is about pet ownership (not that cats have owners, they have staff).

Packed with many previously unpublished historical images along with more recent photos, this is a beautifully illustrated book that my two furry friends (Seymour the Wonder Cat and his trusty sidekick Norman the Moggy) both approve of.

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