The ‘Companion Species’
Haraway introduces her ‘Companion Species Manifesto’ in which she considers the complex relationships and confinements between humans and animals. She explains the ‘protean’ ‘co-history’ (Haraway 2007:12) of humans and animals, such as the cruel practices in animal testing in contrast to animals becoming part of the human family (as pets). Humans have domesticated certain species and evolved with them to build consequential relationships. Haraway seems to suggest that the relations between humans and animals is far from being one-dimensional as she ‘narrates’ this ‘co-history’ (Haraway 2007:12). This exploration of the ‘companion species’ takes the form of a photo essay in which the profound connections between humans and their pets are recognised.
Mei Mei is a nine-year-old Miniature Schnauzer. She was my twelfth birthday present. Her name means ‘sister’ in Mandarin and has become the fifth member of our family. She has moved with us three times between Beijing and Singapore and has remained one of the very few constant companions in my life. We faced each move together and to some extent, I feel that we experienced each move similarly. Moving to Singapore in 2008 was the most difficult for both of us – she spent a whole month in quarantine and I struggled to settle into the new school. Throughout that year neither one of us were able to adapt to the new surroundings and as a result I felt that we had an even closer connection.
In Grade One my cousin received two female tortoises, Fauna and Flora. Today, nearly twenty years later they are in my aunt’s care. She has always felt like the tortoises were a small part of her son’s childhood that she has been able to hold onto. Although they are not particularly cuddly animals, just by looking at them she remembers endearing moments of her son’s earlier yeas. Last year, the ladies were introduced to a male tortoise called Fred and began to lay eggs for the first time in March. Within the same week my cousin learned he was going to be a father for the first time. My aunt says that she now feels a deeper connection with the tortoises than ever as they reflect such significant points of her son’s life.
Amber and Fenton are my friend’s dog and cat. Amber is a thirteen years old cocker spaniel, whilst Fenton used to be a stray cat in the neighbourhood and his breed and age are unknown. Fenton obliged the family to adopt him after finding his way into the house numerous times. He has always likes his presence to be known and tends to seek attention wherever possible, even from Amber. To the family he represented an animal in need and allowed them the opportunity to care for him. He is now a source of their pride as they raised him health and contentment, much like a parent would do for a child.
My uncle has ten goldfish and knows each by name. He has been retired for about a year and initially found the freedom liberating, but as the months passed he became depressed, sensing a lack of purpose. His family pushed him to find a hobby, which is when he discovered ‘aquaponics’. Aquaponics use water from an aquaculture (aquarium) and through a hydroponic system the by-products of the fish are broken down and used by plants as nutrients. My uncle built the system on his small balcony and now grows herbs, lettuce and celery. He explained to me that his fish have become like his co-workers in that they must work together to achieve good results. He has to ensure the fish are happy and healthy for the vegetables to be a success. He has ten goldfish and is proud to say that he has not as yet lost any of them. The goldfish have allowed him to reestablish his daily routine so that he feels that he has a fulfilled a functional value.
Each of the animals mentioned have a deep significance to their owner and most likely vice versa. Overall, in ‘co-habiting’ (Haraway 2007: 20) a relationship is established, which has an effect on both species. A communicative element is present, in someway species are able to connect with the other in some way, despite their innate differences.
Haraway, D. 2007. The Companion Species Manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
Shelton, D. 2001. Pioneer pets: the dogs of Territorial Tucson: a photo essay. The Journal of Arizona History 42(4):445-472.