There's an interesting article on Ars Technica that discuses about what separates us from other animals and makes us uniquely human. Attributes cited in the past include our use of tools, our use of language, and our domestication of animals and farming. Now, it looks like there's another, more fundamental attribute, that just so happens to underpin and tie all of this together: our "animal connection".
According to this new theory our connection with animals started nearly three million years ago, when we first invented stone tools and used them to hunt other animals. We had to learn about animals to effectively hunt them, and we also had to learn about the other animals that were our competition, the other carnivores. It was that understanding that helped the next stage, the domestication of animals (tied with farming). Our understanding of animals also provided inspiration for our first use of symbology (such as the Palaeolithic cave paintings). Ancient civilizations (especially Egyptian) incorporated animals as part of their culture and religion.
It carries forward today, with billions spent in this country just on pets, and the billions tied up in factory farms raising beef, pork, and poultry. In my house alone we have five animals, two Labs and three cats.
In spite of this affinity for animals, we also visit sadistic cruelty on them, just for the pleasure of watching them suffer and die. Dog fighting, as but one example, is the most visible; Micheal Vick, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback, was convicted in 2007 on animal cruelty charges and sentenced to two years in federal prison. It was the brutality of the action coupled with his public stature as a professional football player that drew attention to this particular case. Unfortunately it isn't the only one, and it hasn't stopped.
It is our connection with animals that underpins both the best and worst part of our natures.
As the saying goes, "The more I know people, the more I like my dog."
Olympus E-P2, M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8.