Many authors have pets. I thought I’d speculate why that’s so.
I did a little online research and came up with the following table of authors, their pet type and breed, and the pet name or names, if known. For the data in the table, I’m grateful to the bloggers here, here, and here.
|Author||Pet Type-Breed||Pet Name(s)|
|Michel de Montaigne||Cat|
|Elizabeth Barrett Browning||Dog – Cocker Spaniel||Flush|
|Edgar Allan Poe||Cat||Catterina|
|Charles Dickens||Bird – Raven||Grip|
|Edith Wharton||Dogs||Mouton, Sprite, Mitou, Miza, Nicette, Mimi|
|Gertrude Stein||Dog – Poodle||Basket|
|William Carlos Williams||Cats|
|T. S. Eliot||Cat|
|Edith Södergran||Cats||Totti (favorite)|
|E.B. White||Dog – Dachshund||Minnie|
|Ernest Hemingway||Cats (23)||Snowball, Uncle Willie|
|Jorge Luis Borges||Cat|
|John Steinbeck||Dog – Poodle||Charley|
|Jean Paul Sartre||Cat|
|Wystan Hugh Auden||Cat||Rudimace|
|William S. Burroughs||Cats||Fletch, Spooner, Ginger, Calico Jane, Rooski, Wimpy, Ed|
|Julio Cortázar||Cat||Theodor W. Adorno|
|Doris May Lessing||Cats||El Magnifico|
|Patricia Highsmith||Cats and snails|
|Mary Flannery O’Connor||Peacocks (~40)||Manley Pointer, Joy/Hulga, Mary Grace|
|George Plimpton||Cat||Mr. Puss|
|Philip K. Dick||Cat||Magnificat|
|Joyce Carol Oates||Cat|
|Stephen King||Cats and Dogs||Clovis (one of the cats)|
|Neil Gaiman||Cats||Coconut, Hermione, Pod, Zoe, Princess|
Obviously, the most common pets on the list are cats and dogs. However it’s notable that Charles Dickens had a raven; Patricia Highsmith kept snails; and Mary Flannery O’Connor make peacocks her pets.
Before conducting my research, I assumed authors would have clever or literary names for their pets. After all, they know how to choose words carefully. That’s why, in my table, I included pet names where known. However, for the most part, authors name their pets the same things most people do. Maurice Sendak named his dog for Herman Melville, but that’s the exception.
Why do authors keep pets? Likely for the same reason other people keep pets—companionship. Pets can serve other functions, of course. Dogs can protect a home or assist the blind. Cats can rid a home of mice.
Still, I think certain aspects of pet companionship appeal to authors in particular.
- Writers spend considerable time away from others, and prefer silence or soft instrumental music while writing. Human voices (even singing) can be a distraction. Pets will lie or sit quietly for long periods.
- A pet will provide a relaxing break from writing. Often the pet determines these intervals. But it’s thought animals may sense human emotions, and sometimes the pet might detect that the writer needs a break.
- A writer can use a pet as an unbiased and uncritical sounding board. A pet will listen patiently while being read to, and provide no feedback. The writer has the benefit of an audience, with no need to feel self-conscious about the poor quality of a first draft.
- A pet can serve as inspiration for a writer who is writing a story about a similar animal. The writer can observe a pet’s movements, habits, and general personality, and incorporate these in the story.
There must be other reasons as well, and I urge you to comment and offer some.
As for me, I do not have a pet. Some years ago, I kept several fish in a nice aquarium, but I gave that up. I’m allergic to animal hair, but some dogs and cats are hairless, so that’s not a real barrier. Who knows, someday a pet might offer its own special companionship to—