From physical and emotional support to transport, farming, and scientific study, animals help humans in many diverse ways.
Animals can help people deal with vision and hearing loss, loss of limbs, as well as illnesses such as diabetes and autism. Animals are a large part of the food industry, with almost all of the animals being used. They are also used in medical trials, transport, training and teaching, along with being great companions.
Humans began domesticating animals around 16,000 years ago, although some scientists believe it could have been even earlier, approximately 30,000 years ago. Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated and were used for herding and hunting.
Villagers would provide the dogs with food, shelter, and protection from predators like bears. There is no definite answer on where the first dogs were domesticated, but studies suggest it was either the Middle East or East Asia.
Roughly 6,000 years later, humans began domesticating livestock such as cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats. This continued over the centuries, with more animals being valued for what they could provide. This included chickens, turkeys and ducks, guinea pigs, horses and donkeys, deer, camels, and bees.
In modern times, dogs have been trained to be service and support animals. They assist people with a wide range of physical and mental ailments:
- Blindness or visual impairment
- Hearing loss
- Seizures and fainting
- Loss of limb
Many emergency services also use specially trained dogs to carry out important work alongside humans:
- Detection dogs: drugs, money, explosives, firearms, blood
- Protection dogs: apprehending criminals
- Search and rescue
- Fire: missing persons and flammable liquid detection
- Armed forces: bomb detection
Dogs are bred in specialized breeding and training centers, where staff carefully match breeding dogs together. The puppies are put through some simple tests such as confidence around people and new environments, curiosity, and excitement/engagement.
Puppies that do not pass the initial selection tests are rehomed as pets via partnered organizations. Puppies usually fail due to timidness, over excitement or health-related reasons like joint or eye issues.
When it comes to food, there is seemingly no end to what animals can provide. Whether it is cows, sheep, pigs, or goats, animals provide more than meat.
They also provide:
- Bones: used in cooking, for the pet food industry, to make buttons and bone china
- Skin: leather, pet food industry
- Intestines: pet food industry, tennis racquet string
- Hair: paint brushes, hairbrushes, upholstery, musical instrument bowstrings
- Offal: cooking, pet food industry
- Milk: cows, goats, and sheep
In today’s market, we try to use as much of the animal to reduce waste. Once the animal’s meat has been removed, the carcass is then processed based on various uses. Skin is sent to clothing and shoe manufacturers; horns are used to make buttons for clothing and furniture, bones are used for the pet food industry, and bone china production.
Animal hair and wool are used for clothing, upholstery, strings for musical instruments, and bristles for paintbrushes. Even the hooves are used. They are sold as natural dog treats for the pet food industry and also used to produce fire-extinguishing foam.
Even the smallest of animals is vital to our food industry. Bees are important pollinators, responsible for pollinating around 70% of our crops. Wild species pollinate most crops, but just over 30% are pollinated by domesticated honeybees.
Transport & Labour
Around 4000 BC, humans began using horses and donkeys for transport. Donkeys were used to carry construction materials such as bricks and bags of sand, while horses were ridden by humans or used to pull carriages.
Cows and other bovines were historically used as farm labor to pull plowing machinery that was too heavy for human use.
Horses also featured heavily during wartime, used to carry soldiers and weapons onto the battlefield. Many millions of horses have perished in wars since humans first began domesticating them.
Today, horses are mostly used by the mounted police to patrol parks and rural areas, as well as for crowd control during major social events or emergencies like riots. They are also used to pull carriages for events such as weddings and funerals.
Dogs are also used for transport in cold and snowy climates. In the snowy landscapes of Canada and Alaska, dogs are used to pull sleds that transport people and supplies like food and medicine.
While animal testing has made many leaps forward in animal welfare, this process is still vital to scientific discovery and advances in medicine.
Heart disease is one of the most common causes of death in many developed countries, but animals can help reduce this. Recent studies have shown that the loss of a certain gene increases our risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Sharks have helped advance several areas of medicine, including cancer, wound healing, and Alzheimer’s disease. The 1999 film Deep Blue Sea was ahead of its time, as shark antibodies could treat Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s within the next decade.
Specially trained dogs can detect cancer cells and signal a person with cancer from a group of healthy people. There are also many stories of people reporting that their dogs began acting strangely towards them, often nudging or pawing at a particular area of their body. Later tests revealed that these people had cancer.
Dogs are also used as therapy dogs. In the last ten years, dogs have increasingly been trained to provide therapeutic support for people with learning disabilities, emotional trauma, or mental health illnesses. Therapy dogs are often taken into hospitals and nursing homes to provide therapy and companionship for patients.
In the early 1900s, the average life expectancy of humans was 50 – 55 years. Today, with the advancement of medicine based on animal study and medication testing, our life expectancy has increased to 75 years.
There has always been debate around using animals for medical testing, and this will continue to be a contentious topic until an alternative form of safety testing is found.
Knowledge & Recreation
A lot of human study around animals is based on behavior and communication. Learning how animals communicate with one another and how their behavior changes to adapt to their environment teaches us a lot about the adaptation and evolution of species.
Animals are also used to study the effects of natural disasters and the increasing threat of climate change.
Many zoological parks have partnered with wildlife conservation projects to promote greener living, recycling, reducing our carbon footprint, and shedding light on illegal logging, which drastically reduces the habitat of many wild animal species.
But perhaps the most common way animals help humans is simple companionship. In North America alone, there are estimated to be almost 90 million cats and 80 million dogs. Some people also keep other pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and rats, birds, ferrets, reptiles, and fish.
Some families also keep farm animals, including horses, goats, and chickens. Not only do these animals provide companionship, but they also provide food and clothing material. Chickens lay eggs, and sheep produce wool, while goats, sheep, and cows produce milk.
Companion animals teach children a lot about responsibility and routine. Dogs must be walked every day. Pets require regular feeding, cleaning, and socialization to be healthy and happy.
There are countless ways in which animals help humans lead better lives, and in some ways, there are animals that humans cannot survive without.
Bardroff, J. (2021, February 5). Humans Would Not Exist Without These 5 Animals. Retrieved from One Green Planet: https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/animals-that-help-us-to-survive/
Bedford, C. (2020). Meet the dogs helping emergency services to investigate fires and find missing people. Grimsby: Grimsby Live.
Fairfield, H. (2021, February 5). How much of our food supply to bees pollinate? Retrieved from Revive A Bee: https://reviveabee.com/how-much-of-our-food-supply-do-bees-pollinate/
Four Paws International. (2019, November 20). ANIMALS HELP HUMANS: What effect do animals have on our lives? Retrieved from Four Paws: https://www.four-paws.org/campaigns-topics/topics/companion-animals/adoption/animals-help-humans
Gambino, M. (2012, August 27). How Looking to Animals Can Improve Human Medicine: Smithsonian Magazine, pp. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-looking-to-animals-can-improve-human-medicine-17109641/
Hirst, K. (2019, January 27). Animal Domestication – Table of Dates and Places. Retrieved from ThoughtCo: https://www.thoughtco.com/animal-domestication-table-dates-places-170675
Loza, B. (2019, May 20). Unsung Heroes: 10 Ways Animals Help Us. Retrieved from Global Giving: https://www.globalgiving.org/learn/ways-animals-help-us/
Murray, L. (2007, January 22). How Service Animals Help Humans Live Fuller Lives. Retrieved from Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/explore/savingearth/service-animals-help-humans-live-fuller-lives
Psychology Today. (2009, May 18). Animal Behaviour. Psychology Today, pp. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/animal-behavior
Ranga. (2017, February 28). Importance of Animals | 13 Uses for Human Life. Retrieved from Study Read: https://www.studyread.com/importance-of-animals/#:~:text=%20Importance%20of%20animals%20in%20human%20life%20,recent%20times%2C%20this%20method%20is%20mostly…%20More%20