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Attachments between non-human animals of different species are surprisingly common in situations involving human agency (e.g., homes, zoos, and wildlife parks). However, cross-species animal friendships analogous to pet-keeping by humans are at least rare and possibly non-existent in nature. Why has pet-keeping evolved only in Homo sapiens? I review theories that explain pet-keeping either as an adaptation or an evolutionary by-product. I suggest that these explanations cannot account for the wide variation in the distribution and forms of pet-keeping across human societies and over historical time. Using fluctuations in the popularity of dog breeds in the United States, I show how shifts in choices of pets follow the rapid changes in preferences that characterize fashion cycles. I argue that while humans possess some innate traits that facilitate attachment to members of other species (e.g., parental urges, attraction to creatures with infantile features), pet-keeping is largely a product of social learning and imitation-based cultural evolution.


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