There's no doubt that we Brits are a nation of pet lovers. There are now 34 million pets in the UK, including 12 million cats and 12 million dogs, according to recent research by Pet Food Manufacturers' Association (PFMA).
But just how did our pets become pets?
Humans have interacted with animals for thousands of years. The first animal to transition from the wild to the domesticated state was the wolf, the common ancestor of all modern-day dogs. This occurred at least twelve to fourteen thousand years ago, upon the discovery that young wolf cubs that remained subordinate to humans as adults could be trained (according to Pedigree).
However, according to research, domestic animals weren't socially acceptable in Britain until after the 18th century. Before then, pets were often seen as an elite extravagance. For example, in portraits during that period, the people sitting for the paintings were typically dressed in ostentatious costumes, with a dog in their lap. At that time, pet owners were seen as frivolous consumers.
But it was the Victorians who were responsible for changing attitudes towards keeping animals as pets. By the early 19th century, there were fewer over-the-top images, paintings and illustrations in circulation, and more that began to portray pets as an accepted part of everyday life.
A key aspect of this was the new emphasis that the Victorians placed on the home and domestic life, as a response to the growth of industrial cities that were noisy and dirty. Therefore, the home was seen as a special, treasured place – and pets were important to this celebration of normal life. Therefore, they were beginning to appear in paintings that depicted them as part of the family.
Different pets were popular with the Victorians for different reasons. Pedigree dogs conveyed social status and class. And the virtuous characteristics of dogs – loyal, courageous, and steadfast – echoed the Victorian world, which meant they were held in high regard. Cats were kept for practical reasons, as they caught mice, while rabbits could be eaten if times were hard. Researchers have discovered from diaries, photographs, interviews and, interestingly, the growth in newly constructed pet cemeteries, that Victorians were incredibly emotionally attached to their pets.
A huge change in the way that Brits kept domesticated pets came in the early 20th century. Living conditions changed, thanks to the construction of new, suburban houses with big gardens. These new homes created a more spacious environment for animals and those who lived exclusively indoors, such as pedigree cats. This period was also paired with a rise in disposable incomes, which meant people had more money to spend on four-legged companions.
These lifestyle changes meant the nature of the relationship between humans and pets evolved. Further development came after World War II, when vet services grew, alongside a boom in companies creating bespoke food, toys and pampering experiences just for pets. This led to Brits building a relationship with their pets, rather than simply caring for them as domestic animals.
Social commentaries from the 1920s explored the growing relationship, including introductions such as training. This topic grew further, and by the late 1950s and early 1960s, commentators and academics dedicated a lot of time researching and exploring the significance of pets and their place in the family. In 1964, sociologists Harold Bridger and Stephanie White argued that the decline of the traditional "close-knit" family made pets more necessary to bind families together.
These days, pet culture is booming. The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown also had a huge impact on this. For example, according to Pet Food Manufacturers' Association (PFMA), a recent study confirmed that 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic.
Our love for our four-legged friends can only grow and grow. We know they are all part of our family – dogs, cats, rabbits – whatever pet you may have. It's exactly why we created our unique pawprint jewellery range. This collection is personalised with a miniaturised version of your very own pet's paw to keep your beloved pet with you forever.
We've made the process as simple as possible. You can either provide us with a copy of a paw print that you may already have, or we can supply you with a special 'Ink-Free' Magic Paw Print Kit to take the print. Each print is carefully miniaturised by our specialist designers, who will create your design with love and care. Your finished piece of Paw Print Jewellery will arrive with you beautifully presented and ready to love forever.
Some of our favourites from the range include the engraved pawprint heart necklace, with either one print and one name or if your love comes in pairs, two prints and two names. This engraved pawprint heart charm bead is also very popular with our customers, together with the pawprint keyring.
Of course, our deep love for our pets means saying goodbye to them is even more difficult. We've experienced pet loss ourselves, and we know how devastating it is (we've also recently blogged about grieving the loss of a pet and different ways to remember your beloved pet for anyone who's navigating the difficult experience).
It was going through these heart-breaking experiences that inspired us to start our pet memorial range. To create a lasting memory of your pet, our specialist designers can design a beautiful piece of jewellery using the true paw print. They will work carefully with the image, removing any marks from fur and miniaturing the print, keeping all the unique detail to fit on your chosen necklace, charm or bracelet.
Alternatively, our cremation ashes range can also encompass pet cremation ashes to create a lasting tribute. We offer two different options – cremation ashes jewellery and self-fill ashes jewellery. The cremation ashes jewellery range means you can create a piece of jewellery, including necklaces, rings, cufflinks, charms and earrings, using the ashes from your pet.
The cremation ash is very delicately set into resin, which has a beautiful glass-like appearance while being very hard-wearing, making it the perfect material for ashes jewellery. Available in various colours, the cremation ash is layered to create a beautiful floating and sparkling appearance within the jewellery.
Our other range for jewellery made from ashes is the self-fill ashes collection. These pieces are designed to hold a small token of cremation ashes – the ideal way to keep a pet close in a beautiful piece of memorial jewellery. All our urn necklaces are made from sterling silver and come with the equipment and instructions needed to transfer a small amount of ashes into the necklace. You can also choose to have your ashes necklace personalised with text, like the name of your pet, or a date.
It's been fascinating exploring when and where our love for pets originated from, and we hope you enjoyed reading about it! There's no doubt we Brits love our pets, and at Hand on Heart, we take enormous pride in taking that love and creating a beautiful, unique keepsake that can be treasured forever.