A lot of us have pets. A lot of us are also allergic to pets, but even then one could still own a fish, reptile, or perhaps a bird. Even if you don’t own a pet, most of you would probably have to admit that you’d like to. There’s just something about an animal companion that’s just…wonderful.
Heroes, side-kicks, and other common protagonist types very often have some sort of pet or familiar. The faithful dog. A horse of uncommon intelligence. What’s that on the gold-hearted thief’s shoulder? A ferret, or a small monkey perhaps? Let’s not forget wolves and cats. Steampunk? Bring in the octopi and hedgehogs! Aquatic? So many fish friends.
What about the evil guy? Where’s his pet? Voldemort had a snake, and Ursula had her eels. Maleficent had a raven. Many evil types have had growling Dobermans. And then, of course, there’s the dragon mounts.
Hold on, I’m sensing a theme here – the heroic types can have basically whatever pet they want, even if they tend towards certain types, and those types are wide in selection. These pets are for aesthetics, transportation, special magical bonds, companionship. Evil types get snake-y things, symbols of death and doom, and things that could rip your throat out. These are for intimidation aesthetics, protection, battle, transportation. Hm.
Sometimes you do see the evil mastermind petting his cat as he slowly wheels around in his chair.
But I’m pretty sure those evil masterminds only own a cat for the sole purpose of wheeling around in their chair while petting one. I don’t even know for certain those are real cats, I mean, Vivi already didn’t want to be held for even a picture’s length and our other cat, Minwu, wouldn’t either (although he’s not really evil cat material, he’s too much of a big derp). Maybe our flatmate’s cat might have tolerated sitting on someone’s lap on their schedule, as she doesn’t mind her owner scooping her up to snuggle like our two cats. Persians are really fussy cats, you know – at least the ones I’ve ever met – and cats in general don’t want to be held extensively on a human’s timeline so the cats overlords have are probably some sort of fake robot cat anyway. That’s my headcanon theory. In any case, the mastermind is not covered in cat fur, nor is anything else around him, nor are there angry red lines anywhere on his body from cat scratches, nor are there food or water bowls or litter boxes or scratching posts anywhere in his domicile, let alone his office where one can only presume his cat lives since that’s the only place we see it. That’s not a pet. That’s an aesthetic, a decoration just like the dim lights in the room.
There’s usually not a whole lot of affection from evil person to animal, either. Sometimes, you might see the villain pet his or her snake or bird, and on a particularly affectionate day possibly feeding the animal, but you don’t really see them playing fetch or really rubbing down their Doberman. There’s no “Whose a gooboy? WHooosa gooboy?” and no “Roll over! Shake! Have a treat.” There’s no finding solace in the animal when things go badly, not for a villain. And do you ever hear a villain screaming, “Fluffykins!” when they discover their throne has been torn up by the cat, or maybe said cat left any of the assortment of presents cats leave around atop the throne? Okay, granted, you don’t normally see much of this with heroes, either. I personally think it’s because people who write the animal companions have never had that animal as a companion. I don’t think I could write anyone owning a cat without having the cat knock over and break something vitally important at least once. Maybe the Ultimate MacGuffin. But inasmuch as the heroes don’t often deal with the downside of pets, the villains never seem to, or any other aspect of the pet aside from it’s obvious use.
The other aspect missing from a real master-pet relationship, like most us normal folk have, is the drive to provide toys for the animal – to buy tubes for a rodent to crawl around in, or little wooden houses for them to lay in and gnaw; cat condos for cats to play around on, lasers to drive them wild; mirrors and bells and stands for birds, pretty shiny things for them to grab for a nest; a toy that squeaks and rattles for your dog; heated rocks, coves, tunnels for reptiles; decor for fish. Your villain is a person, too, and the charms of an animal are difficult to resist, especially when given toys. Imagine your heroes bursting in on the villain as he tosses a ball across the long meeting room, his powerful dog racing across to bring it back, tail wagging, growling slightly at the heroes – he treats with them all the while still throwing the ball. Or the same scene, but all the while doodling a spiraling laser pointer’s laser on the floor with a cat madly pawing at it. That could be comical or it could be even more intimidating because the villain is acting like a normal pet owner and is not even perturbed by the presence of the heroes.
There are other aspects of being a pet owner that are overlooked. Pet care is oft boring and acceptable to skip; if you mention fresh bedding, it’s implied someone changes it. But there are some aspects that can add to your aesthetics while adding to the image your villain cares about this pets. Feeding crickets to a lizard or toad – feeding anything to a pet – has been used as an intimidation tactic and is great if not used badly, in my opinion. And then, snake skin – Do you know how awesome it is when your snake sheds its skin? It’s so cool. The snake gets all opaque a few days before, and then its eyes fog over and you know it’ll shed soon, and then it just…wiggles out, leaving a ghost version of itself behind. And then that skin – to take it and do something with it, feel it like a crisp dry leaf, and yet still scaly like your reptilian friend…why are shed snake skins from an evil pet just used as a creepy omen for the heroes? If I owned a giant snake I’d be figuring out all sorts of awesome crafts with that much snake skin. I’ve ever only been sister to the owner of a corn snake, and those cute guys are tiny so there’s not much you can do with their skins. Feathers could likewise be used.
I’m not going to tell you to use snakes or Dobermans, or not. I think it’d be cool to see a villain with a chinchilla on his shoulder or a ferret on a leash, but there’s nothing wrong with owning a raven. I’m just wondering if maybe villains couldn’t have more of a connection with their animals and familiars, too. Just because a person is cold and uncaring about others doesn’t mean they have to be so with animals, too – and in fact, I think, normally, they’re not. How many people do you know who hate other people but love their dog?