Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century pet keeping in the modern sense gradually became accepted throughout Britain. Initially, aristocrats kept dogs for both companionship and hunting. Thus, pet keeping was a sign of elitism within society. By the nineteenth century, the rise of the middle class stimulated the development of pet keeping and it became inscribed within the bourgeois culture.
As the popularity of pet keeping in the modern sense rose during the Victorian Era, animals became a fixture within urban culture as commodities and decorative objects. Pet keeping generated a commercial opportunity for entrepreneurs. By the mid-nineteenth century, nearly twenty thousand street vendors in London dealt with live animals. Also, the popularity of animals developed a demand for animal goods such as accessories and guides for pet keeping. Pet care developed into a big business by the end of the nineteenth century.
Profiteers also sought out pet stealing as a means for economic gain. Utilizing the affection owner’s had for their pets, professional dog stealers would capture animals and hold them for ransom. The development of dog stealing reflects the increased value of pets. Pets gradually became defined as property of their owners. Laws were created that punished offenders for their burglary.
Pets and animals also had social and cultural implications throughout the nineteenth century. The categorization of dogs by their breeds reflected the hierarchical, social order of the Victorian Era. The pedigree of a dog represented the high status and lineage of their owners and reinforced social stratification.
Middle-class owners, however, valued the ability to associate with the upper-class through ownership of their pets. The ability to care for a pet signified respectability and the capability to be self-sufficient. According to Harriet Ritvo, the identification of “elite animal and elite owner was not a confirmation of the owner’s status but a way of redefining it.”
The popularity of dog and pet keeping generated animal fancy. Dog fanciers showed enthusiasm for owning pets, breeding dogs, and showing dogs in various shows. The first dog show took place on 28 June 1859 in Newcastle and focused mostly on sporting and hunting dogs. However, pet owners produced an eagerness to demonstrate their pets as well as have an outlet to compete.
Thus, pet animals gradually were included within dog shows. The first large show, which would host one thousand entries, took place in Chelsea in 1863. The Kennel Club was created in 1873 to ensure fairness and organization within dog shows. The development of the Stud Book by the Kennel Club defined policies, presented a national registry system of purebred dogs, and essentially institutionalized dog shows.